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Tectonics from topography: Procedures, promise, and pitfalls

By
Cameron Wobus
Cameron Wobus
1
Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
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Kelin X. Whipple
Kelin X. Whipple
1
Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
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Eric Kirby
Eric Kirby
2
Department of Geosciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
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Noah Snyder
Noah Snyder
3
Department of Geology and Geophysics, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02467, USA
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Joel Johnson
Joel Johnson
4
Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
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Katerina Spyropolou
Katerina Spyropolou
4
Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
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Benjamin Crosby
Benjamin Crosby
4
Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
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Daniel Sheehan
Daniel Sheehan
5
Information Systems, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
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Published:
January 01, 2006

Empirical observations from fluvial systems across the globe reveal a consistent power-law scaling between channel slope and contributing drainage area. Theoretical arguments for both detachment- and transport-limited erosion regimes suggest that rock uplift rate should exert first-order control on this scaling. Here we describe in detail a method for exploiting this relationship, in which topographic indices of longitudinal profile shape and character are derived from digital topographic data. The stream profile data can then be used to delineate breaks in scaling that may be associated with tectonic boundaries. The description of the method is followed by three case studies from varied tectonic settings. The case studies illustrate the power of stream profile analysis in delineating spatial patterns of, and in some cases, temporal changes in, rock uplift rate. Owing to an incomplete understanding of river response to rock uplift, the method remains primarily a qualitative tool for neotectonic investigations; we conclude with a discussion of research needs that must be met before we can extract quantitative information about tectonics directly from topography.

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Contents

GSA Special Papers

Tectonics, Climate, and Landscape Evolution

Sean D. Willett
Sean D. Willett
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Niels Hovius
Niels Hovius
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Mark T. Brandon
Mark T. Brandon
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Donald M. Fisher
Donald M. Fisher
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Geological Society of America
Volume
398
ISBN print:
9780813723983
Publication date:
January 01, 2006

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