Abstract

Knickpoints in longitudinal river profiles are proxies for the climatic and tectonic history of active mountains. The analysis of river profiles commonly relies on the assumption that drainage network configurations are stable. Here, we show that this assumption must be made cautiously if changes in contributing area are fast relative to knickpoint migration rates. We studied the Parachute Creek basin in the Roan Plateau, Colorado, United States, where knickpoint retreat occurs in horizontally uniform lithology so that drainage area is the sole governing variable. In this basin, we identified an anomalous catchment in the degree to which a stream power–based model predicted knickpoint locations. The catchment is experiencing area loss as the plateau edge is eroded by cliff migration in proximity to the Colorado River. Model predictions improve if the plateau edge is assumed to have migrated over the time scale of knickpoint retreat. Finally, a Lagrangian model of knickpoint migration enabled us to study the kinematic links between drainage area loss and knickpoint migration and offered constraints on the temporal aspects of area loss. Modeled onset and amount of area loss are consistent with cliff retreat rates along the margin of the Roan Plateau inferred from the incisional history of the upper Colorado River.

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