River incision into bedrock drives landscape evolution and couples surface changes to climate and tectonics in uplands. Mechanistic bedrock erosion modeling has focused on plucking—the hydraulic removal of large loosened rock fragments—and on abrasion—the slower fracturing-driven removal of rock due to impacts of transported sediment—which produces sand- or silt-sized fragments at the mineral grain scale (i.e., wear). An abrasion subregime (macro-abrasion) has been hypothesized to exist under high impact energies typical of cobble or boulder transport in mountain rivers, in which larger bedrock fragments can be generated. We conducted dry impact abrasion experiments across a wide range of impact energies and found that gravel-sized fragments were generated when the impact energy divided by squared impactor diameter exceeded 1 kJ/m2. However, the total abraded volume followed the same kinetic-energy scaling regardless of fragment size, holding over 13 orders of magnitude in impact energy and supporting a general abrasion law. Application to natural bedrock rivers shows that many of them likely can generate large fragments, especially in steep mountain streams and during large floods, transporting boulders in excess of 0.6 m diameter. In this regime, even single impacts can cause changes in riverbed topography that may drive morphodynamic feedbacks.

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