Abstract

Mountain channels can be strongly coupled with adjacent hillslopes, exchanging both mass and energy. However, hypotheses of the underlying cause and effect relations are based on indirect observations that do not resolve the mechanics of channel-hillslope coupling at the process scale. Here we present direct observational data of a coupled channel-hillslope system in the catchment area of the Erlenbach, a mountain stream in Switzerland. A slow-moving landslide flanking this alpine stream failed after a flood had eroded an alluvial step in the channel at its base, representing evidence for an upsystem link in channel-hillslope coupling. Progressive accumulation of landslide debris in the channel resulted in a renewed step, stabilizing the hillslope and restoring the channel step in a downsystem link. Thus, upsystem and downsystem coupling mechanisms are joined in a negative feedback cycle. In this cycle, debuttressing and rebuttressing due to channel bed erosion and alluviation are the dominant controls on hillslope stability. Based on an order of magnitude estimate it is plausible that the observed feedback mechanism is a relevant process in the production of coarse (>2 mm) sediment in the Erlenbach.

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