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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Short communication 06 Jul 2018

Short communication | 06 Jul 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Earth Surface Dynamics (ESurf).

Short Communication: Increasing vertical attenuation length of cosmogenic nuclide production on steep slopes negates topographic shielding corrections for catchment erosion rates

Roman A. DiBiase Roman A. DiBiase
  • Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, 16802, USA

Abstract. Interpreting catchment-mean erosion rate from in situ produced cosmogenic 10Be concentration in stream sands requires calculating the catchment-mean 10Be surface production rate and effective mass attenuation length, both of which can vary locally due to topographic shielding and slope effects. The most common method for calculating topographic shielding accounts only for the effect of shielding at the surface, leading to catchment-mean corrections of up to 20% in steep landscapes, and makes the simplifying assumption that the effective mass attenuation length for a given nuclide production mechanism is spatially uniform. Here I evaluate the validity of this assumption using a simplified catchment geometry to calculate the spatial variation in surface skyline shielding, effective mass attenuation length, and the total effective shielding factor for catchments with mean slopes ranging from 0° to 80°. For flat catchments (i.e., uniform elevation of bounding ridgelines), the increase in effective attenuation length as a function of hillslope angle and skyline shielding leads to a catchment-mean total effective shielding factor of one, implying that no topographic shielding factor is needed when calculating catchment-mean vertical erosion rates. For dipping catchments (as characterized by a plane fit to the bounding ridgelines), the catchment-mean total effective shielding factor is also one, except for cases of extremely steep range-front catchments, where the shielding correction is counterintuitively greater than one. These results indicate that in most cases, topographic shielding corrections are inappropriate for calculating catchment-mean erosion rates, and only needed for steep catchments with non-uniform distribution of quartz and/or erosion rate. By accounting only for shielding of surface production, existing shielding approaches introduce a slope-dependent systematic error that could lead to spurious interpretations of relationships between topography and erosion rate.

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