Hillslope response to tectonic forcing in threshold landscapes

Roman A. Dibiase, Arjun M. Heimsath, Kelin X. Whipple

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Hillslopes are thought to poorly record tectonic signals in threshold landscapes. Numerous previous studies of steep landscapes suggest that large changes in long-term erosion rate lead to little change in mean hillslope angle, measured at coarse resolution. New LiDAR-derived topography data enables a finer examination of threshold hillslopes. Here we quantify hillslope response to tectonic forcing in a threshold landscape. To do so, we use an extensive cosmogenic beryllium-10 ( 10Be)-based dataset of catchment-averaged erosion rates combined with a 500km 2 LiDAR-derived 1m digital elevation model to exploit a gradient of tectonic forcing and topographic relief in the San Gabriel Mountains, California. We also calibrate a new method of quantifying rock exposure from LiDAR-derived slope measurements using high-resolution panoramic photographs. Two distinct trends in hillslope behavior emerge: below catchment-mean slopes of 30°, modal slopes increase with mean slopes, slope distribution skewness decreases with increasing mean slope, and bedrock exposure is limited; above mean slopes of 30°, our rock exposure index increases strongly with mean slope, and the prevalence of angle-of-repose debris wedges keeps modal slopes near 37°, resulting in a positive relationship between slope distribution skewness and mean slope. We find that both mean slopes and rock exposure increase with erosion rate up to 1mm/a, in contrast to previous work based on coarser topographic data. We also find that as erosion rates increase, the extent of the fluvial network decreases, while colluvial channels extend downstream, keeping the total drainage density similar across the range. Our results reveal important textural details lost in 10 or 30m resolution digital elevation models of steep landscapes, and highlight the need for process-based studies of threshold hillslopes and colluvial channels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)855-865
Number of pages11
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jun 30 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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