Abstract

All exposed rocks on Earth's surface experience erosion; the fastest rates are documented in rapidly uplifted monsoonal mountain ranges, and the slowest occur in extreme cold or warm deserts—millennial submeter-scale erosion may be approached only in the latter. The oldest previously reported exposure ages are from boulders and clasts of resistant lithologies lying at the surface, and the slowest reported erosion rates are derived from bedrock outcrops or boulders that erode more slowly than their surroundings; thus, these oldest reported ages and slowest erosion rates relate to outstanding features in the landscape, while the surrounding landscape may erode faster and be younger. We present erosion rate and exposure age data from the Paran Plains, a typical environment in the Near East where vast abandoned alluvial surfaces (102–104 km2) are covered by well-developed desert pavements. These surfaces may experience erosion rates that are slower than those documented elsewhere on our planet and can retain their original geometry for more than 2 m.y. Major factors that reduce erosion converge in these regions: extreme hyperaridity, tectonic stability, flat and horizontal surfaces (i.e., no relief), and effective surface armoring by a clast mosaic of highly resistant lithology. The 10Be concentrations in amalgamated desert pavement chert clasts collected from abandoned alluvial surfaces in the southern Negev, Israel (representing the Sahara-Arabia Deserts), indicate simple exposure ages of 1.5–1.8 Ma or correspond to maximum erosion rates of 0.25–0.3 m m.y.−1. The 36Cl in carbonate clasts, from the same pavement, weathers faster than the chert and yields simple exposure ages of 430–490 ka or maximum erosion rates of 0.7–0.8 m m.y.−1. These ages and rates are exceptional because they represent an extensive landform. The 10Be concentrations from samples collected at depth and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating reveal a two-stage colluvial deposition history followed by eolian addition of 40 cm of silt during the past 170 k.y. Our results highlight the efficiency of desert pavement armor in protecting rocks from erosion and preserving such geomorphic surfaces for millions of years.

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