Multitemporal ALSM change detection, sediment delivery, and process mapping at an active earthflow

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Remote mapping and measurement of surface processes at high spatial resolution is among the frontiers in Earth surface process research. Remote measurements that allow meter-scale mapping of landforms and quantification of landscape change can revolutionize the study of landscape evolution on human timescales. At Mill Gulch in northern California, USA, an active earthflow was surveyed in 2003 and 2007 by airborne laser swath mapping (ALSM), enabling meter-scale quantification of landscape change. We calculate four-year volumetric flux from the earthflow and compare it to long-term catchment average erosion rates from cosmogenic radionuclide inventories from adjacent watersheds. We also present detailed maps of changing features on the earthflow, from which we can derive velocity estimates and infer dominant process. These measurements rely on proper digital elevation model (DEM) generation and a simple surface-matching technique to align the multitemporal data in a manner that eliminates systematic error in either dataset. The mean surface elevation of the earthflow and an opposite slope that was directly influenced by the earthflow decreased 14 ± 1 mm/yr from 2003 to 2007. By making the conservative assumption that these features were the dominant contributor of sediment flux from the entire Mill Gulch drainage basin during this time interval, we calculate a minimum catchment-averaged erosion rate of 0·30 ± 0·02 mm/yr. Analysis of beryllium-10 (10Be) concentrations in fluvial sand from nearby Russian Gulch and the South Fork Gualala River provide catchment averaged erosion rates of 0·21 ± 0·04 and 0·23 ± 0·03 mm/yr respectively. From translated landscape features, we can infer surface velocities ranging from 0·5 m/yr in the wide upper ‘source’ portion of the flow to 5 m/yr in the narrow middle ‘transport’ portion of the flow. This study re-affirms the importance of mass wasting processes in the sediment budgets of uplifting weak lithologies. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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