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Earth Surface Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 07 Aug 2019

Submitted as: research article | 07 Aug 2019

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

The destiny of orogen-parallel streams in the Eastern Alps: the Salzach–Enns drainage system

Georg Trost1, Jörg Robl2, Stefan Hergarten3, and Franz Neubauer2 Georg Trost et al.
  • 1Department of Geoinformatics, Paris-Lodron University Salzburg, 5020, Austria
  • 2Department of Geography and Geology, Paris-Lodron University Salzburg, 5020, Austria
  • 3Institute of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg, 79104, Germany

Abstract. The evolution of the drainage system in the Eastern Alps is inherently linked to different tectonic stages of the alpine orogeny. Crustal scale faults imposed east-directed orogen parallel flow on major rivers, whereas late orogenic surface uplift increased topographic gradients between foreland and range and hence the vulnerability of such rivers to be captured. This leads to a situation where major orogen-parallel alpine rivers such as the Salzach River or the Enns River are characterized by elongated east-west oriented catchments south of the proposed capture points, whereby almost the entire drainage area is located west of the capture point. To determine the current stability of drainage divides and to predict the potential direction of divide migration, we analyzed their geometry at catchment, headwater and hillslope scale. Therefore, we employ chi mapping for different base levels, generalized swath profiles along drainage divides and Gilbert metrics. Our results show that almost all drainage divides are asymmetric with steeper channels west and flatter channels east of a common drainage divide. Interpreting these results, we propose that drainage divides migrate from west towards east, so that the Inn catchment grows on expense of the Salzach catchment and the Salzach catchment consumes the westernmost tributaries of the Mur and Enns catchments. While Gilbert metrics show the same trend at hillslope scale at the Salzach–Enns and Salzach–Mur drainage divide, they show no significant asymmetry at the Inn–Salzach drainage divide. As topography at the latter divide is dominated by glacial landforms such as cirques and U-shaped valleys, we interpret the missing hillslope scale asymmetry of this divide as a result of Pleistocene climate modulations, which locally obscured the large-scale signal of drainage network reorganization. We suggest that the east-directed divide migration progressively leads to symmetric catchment geometries, where eventually tributaries west and east of the capture point contribute equally to the drainage area. To test this assumption we have reconstructed the proposed drainage network for different time slices. Chi mapping of these reconstructed drainage networks indicates a progressive stability of the network topology in the Eastern Alps towards the present-day situation.

Georg Trost et al.
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Georg Trost et al.
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