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Time scales of tectonic landscapes and their sediment routing systems

By
Philip A. Allen
Philip A. Allen
Department of Earth Science and Engineering
,
Imperial College London
,
South Kensington Campus, London SW7 2AZ
,
UK
(e-mail: philip.allen@imperial.ac.uk)
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Published:
January 01, 2008

Abstract

In regions undergoing active tectonics, the coupling between the tectonic displacement field, the overlying landscape and the redistribution of mass at the Earth's surface in the form of sediment routing systems, is particularly marked and variable. Coupling between deformation and surface processes takes place at a range of scales, from the whole orogen to individual extensional fault blocks or contractional anticlines. At the large scale, the attainment of a steady-state between the overlying topography and the prevailing tectonic conditions in active contractional orogens requires an efficient erosional system, with a time scale dependent on the vigour of the erosional system, generally in the range 106–107 years. The catchment–fan systems associated with extensional fault blocks and basins of the western USA are valuable natural examples to study the coupling between tectonic deformation, landscape and sediment routing systems. Even relatively simple coupled systems such as an extensional fault block and its associated basin margin fans have a range of time scales in response to a tectonic perturbation. These response times originate from the development of uniform (steady-state) relief during the accumulation of displacement on a normal fault (c. 106 years), the upstream propagation of a bedrock knickpoint in transverse catchments following a change in tectonic uplift rate (c. 106 years), or the relaxation times of the integrated catchment–fan system in response to changes in climatic and tectonic boundary conditions (105–106 years). The presence of extensive bedrock or alluvial piedmonts increases response times significantly. The sediment efflux of a mountain catchment is a boundary condition for far-field fluvial transport, but the fluvial system is much more than a simple transmitter of the sediment supply signal to a neighbouring depocentre. Fluvial systems appear to act as buffers to incoming sediment supply signals, with a diffusive time scale (c. 105–106 years) dependent on the length of the system and the extent of its floodplains, stream channels and proximal gravel fans. The vocabulary for explaining landscapes would benefit from a greater recognition of the importance of the repeat time and magnitude of perturbations in relation to the response and relaxation times of the landscape and its sediment routing systems. Landscapes are best differentiated as ‘buffered’ or ‘reactive’ depending on the ratio of the response time to the repeat time of the perturbation. Furthermore, landscapes may be regarded as ‘steady’ or ‘transient’ depending on the ratio of the response time to the time elapsed since the most recent change in boundary conditions. The response of tectonically and climatically perturbed landscapes has profound implications for the interpretation of stratigraphic architecture.

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Contents

Geological Society, London, Special Publications

Landscape Evolution: Denudation, Climate and Tectonics over Different Time and Space Scales

K. Gallagher
K. Gallagher
Université de Rennes
,
France
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S. J. Jones
S. J. Jones
University of Durham
,
UK
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J. Wainwright
J. Wainwright
University of Sheffield
,
UK
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Geological Society of London
Volume
296
ISBN electronic:
9781862395442
Publication date:
January 01, 2008

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