Rock damage and regolith transport by frost: an example of climate modulation of the geomorphology of the critical zone

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In this article we craft process-specific algorithms that capture climate control of hillslope evolution in order to elucidate the legacy of past climate on present critical zone architecture and topography. Models of hillslope evolution traditionally comprise rock detachment into the mobile layer, mobile regolith transport, and a channel incision or aggradation boundary condition. We extend this system into the deep critical zone by considering a weathering damage zone below the mobile regolith in which rock strength is diminished; the degree of damage conditions the rate of mobile regolith production. We first discuss generic damage profiles in which appropriate length and damage scales govern profile shapes, and examine their dependence upon exhumation rate. We then introduce climate control through the example of rock damage by frost-generated crack growth. We augment existing frost cracking models by incorporating damage rate limitations for long transport distances for water to the freezing front. Finally we link the frost cracking damage model, a mobile regolith production rule in which rock entrainment is conditioned by the damage state of the rock, and a frost creep transport model, to examine the evolution of an interfluve under oscillating climate. Aspect-related differences in mean annual surface temperatures result in differences in bedrock damage rate and mobile regolith transport efficiency, which in turn lead to asymmetries in critical zone architecture and hillslope form (divide migration). In a quasi-steady state hillslope, the lowering rate is uniform, and the damage profile is better developed on north-facing slopes where the frost damage process is most intense. Because the residence times of mobile regolith and weathered bedrock in such landscapes are on the order of 10 to 100 ka, climate cycles over similar timescales result in modulation of transport and damage efficiencies. These lead to temporal variation in mobile regolith thickness, and to corresponding changes in sediment delivery to bounding streams. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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