Abstract

The spacing of hills and valleys reflects the competition between disturbance-driven (or diffusive) transport on hillslopes and concentrative (or advective) transport in valleys, although the underlying lithologic, tectonic, and climatic controls have not been untangled. Here, we measure geochemical and geomorphic properties of catchments in Kruger National Park, South Africa, where granitic lithology and erosion rates are invariant, enabling us to evaluate how varying mean annual precipitation (MAP = 470 mm, 550 mm, and 730 mm) impacts hill-valley spacing or landscape dissection. Catchment-averaged erosion rates, based on 10Be concentrations in river sands, are low (3–6 m/m.y.) and vary minimally across the three sites. Our lidar-derived slope-area analyses reveal that hillslopes in the dry site are gentle (3%) and short, such that the terrain is low relief and appears highly dissected. With increasing rainfall, hillslopes lengthen and increase in gradient (6%–8%), resulting in less-dissected, higher-relief catchments. The chemical depletion fraction of hilltop regoliths increases with rainfall, from 0.3 to 0.7, reflecting a climate-driven increase in chemical relative to physical erosion. Soil catenas also vary systematically with climate as we observe relatively uniform soil properties in the dry site that contrast with leached sandy crests and upper slopes coupled with downslope clay accumulation zones in the intermediate and wet sites. The geomorphic texture of this slow-eroding, granitic landscape appears to be set by climate-driven feedbacks among chemical weathering, regolith fabric differentiation, hydrological routing, and sediment transport that enhance the vigor of hillslope sediment transport relative to valley-forming processes for wetter climates.

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