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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-2019-48
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-2019-48
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 27 Sep 2019

Submitted as: research article | 27 Sep 2019

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

Lithology and orographic precipitation control river incision in the tropical Andes

Benjamin Campforts1,2, Veerle Vanacker3, Frédéric Herman4, Matthias Vanmaercke5, Wolfgang Schwanghart6, Gustavo E. Tenorio2,7, Patrick Willems8, and Gerard Govers2 Benjamin Campforts et al.
  • 1Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), Egmontstraat 5, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
  • 2Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, KU Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200E, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium
  • 3Earth and Life Institute, Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research, University of Louvain, Place Louis Pasteur 3, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
  • 4Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, University of Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 5Université de Liège, Département de Géographie, Clos Mercator 3, 4000 Liège, Belgium
  • 6Institute of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Potsdam, Germany
  • 7Facultad de Ciencias Agropecuarias, Universidad de Cuenca, Campus Yanuncay, Cuenca, Ecuador
  • 8Department of Civil Engineering – Hydraulics Section, KU Leuven, Kasteelpark 40 box 2448, 3001 Leuven, Belgium

Abstract. Process-based geomorphic transport laws enable to assess the impact of rainfall variability on bedrock river incision over geological timescales. However, isolating the role of rainfall variability on erosion remains difficult in natural environments in part because the variability of rock strength and its resistance to incision are poorly constrained. Here, we explore spatial differences in the rate of bedrock river incision in the Tropical Andes. The Ecuadorian Andes are characterized by strong rainfall gradients due to orographic precipitation sourced in the Amazon basin. In addition, the tectonic configuration has generated a profound lithological heterogeneity. The relative role of either these controls in modulating river incision on millennial time scales, however, remains unclear. Using 10Be catchment-wide erosion rates, meteorological and hydrological data, as well as data on bedrock erodibility, we provide quantitative constraints on the importance of rainfall variability and lithological variations. Explicit incorporation of rock erodibility in river incision models predicated on the stream power equation enables us to identify a first order control of lithology on river incision rates. Rainfall variability based on a spatially and temporally explicit hydrological dataset and a stochastic-threshold river incision model explain regional differences in river incision that cannot be attributed to topographical and/or lithological variability.

Benjamin Campforts et al.
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Short summary
In this contribution, we explore the spatial determinants of bedrock river incision in the tropical Andes. The model results illustrate the problem of confounding between climatic and lithological variables, such as rock strength. Incorporating rock strength explicitly into river incision models enables us to clarify the role of rainfall variability in controlling river incision rates.
In this contribution, we explore the spatial determinants of bedrock river incision in the...
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