Skip to Main Content
Book Chapter

Mountain fronts, base-level fall, and landscape evolution: Insights from the southern Rocky Mountains

By
Kurt L. Frankel
Kurt L. Frankel
1
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 18015, USA
Search for other works by this author on:
Frank J. Pazzaglia
Frank J. Pazzaglia
1
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 18015, USA
Search for other works by this author on:
Published:
January 01, 2006

Mountain ranges in the southern Rocky Mountains, first uplifted during the early Cenozoic Laramide orogeny, have followed separate landscape evolutionary pathways in the late Cenozoic. We present a model that reconstructs the post-Laramide tectonic and geomorphic history of Sierra Nacimiento and the Taos Range, two nearly adjacent rift-flank ranges in north-central New Mexico that serve to illustrate the various processes shaping landscapes across the southern Rocky Mountains. The Sierra Nacimiento landscape reflects the exhumation of hard Precambrian rocks from beneath a softer Phanerozoic sedimentary cover. The exhumation is continuous, but not steady, being driven by distal base-level fall. Downstream diverging river terraces in the Jemez River valley on the eastern flank of Sierra Nacimiento and late Pliocene to Holocene fluvial deposits on the western Sierra Nacimiento piedmont document the base-level fall. The timing and contemporary rates of incision from these river systems suggest that exhumation is being propagated from south to north as knickzones work their way headward from the Rio Grande. In contrast, the Taos Range landscape reflects alternating active stream incision and aggradation astride, and throttled by, an active range-front normal fault. The distinction between the exhumation-dominated and tectonic-dominated mountain front is best quantified by analyses of first-order stream gradients and a watershed metric we call the drainage basin volume to drainage basin area ratio (R va). Gradients of first-order streams in the exhumation-dominated Sierra Nacimiento have a mode of 6.8 degrees, significantly less than the 17.7 degrees obtained from a comparable data set of Taos Range first-order streams. The distinct stream gradient and R va populations hint at an important change in the processes shaping hillslopes and low-order channels, which is supported by the lack of slope-clearing landslides in the Sierra Nacimiento landscape and the presence of such landslides in the Taos Range. Analogue and numeric models find that steep, rugged, faceted topography associated with tectonically active mountain fronts like the Taos Range can only be produced and maintained by creep and landslides where the sediment flux scales as a power law with respect to average hillslope or low-order channel gradient. Here, the fingerprint of active tectonics is recorded by both high R va values and steep modal channel gradients. By comparison, the Sierra Nacimiento landscape is shaped primarily by creep where the sediment flux has a linear relationship to average hillslope and low-order channel gradient. In this situation, the signatures of distal base-level fall are low R va values and relatively gentle modal channel gradients.

You do not currently have access to this article.

Figures & Tables

Contents

GSA Special Papers

Tectonics, Climate, and Landscape Evolution

Sean D. Willett
Sean D. Willett
Search for other works by this author on:
Niels Hovius
Niels Hovius
Search for other works by this author on:
Mark T. Brandon
Mark T. Brandon
Search for other works by this author on:
Donald M. Fisher
Donald M. Fisher
Search for other works by this author on:
Geological Society of America
Volume
398
ISBN print:
9780813723983
Publication date:
January 01, 2006

References

Related

Citing Books via

Related Book Content
Close Modal
This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only

Sign In or Create an Account

Close Modal
Close Modal