Base-level fall, knickpoint retreat and transient channel morphology: The case of small bedrock rivers on resistant quartzites (Isle of Jura, western Scotland)

Castillo-Rodríguez, Miguel E. (2011) Base-level fall, knickpoint retreat and transient channel morphology: The case of small bedrock rivers on resistant quartzites (Isle of Jura, western Scotland). PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Understanding the link between tectonics and climate and their consequences in landscape evolution is a major current issue in Earth sciences. Bedrock rivers are an important component of the landscape because they transmit changes in tectonic and/or climatic conditions by setting bedrock incision rates to which the landscape must be adjusted. Nevertheless, there remain unresolved issues in relation to bedrock river processes and response to perturbation. The effects caused by propagation of a knickpoint triggered by a sudden drop in base-level remain to be fully clarified. Questions about rates of knickpoint recession, the control exerted by structure and lithology, the morphological response of rivers after knickpoint recession and whether bedrock incision rates are re-established after the passage of a knickpoint, as theory predicts, are all issues that need to be clarified. Moreover, the estimation of bedrock incision, which is key to understand transience in landscapes, has relied on the stream power model, mainly tested on large fluvial settings. Whether the stream power model is valid for small bedrock rivers is not well understood. Some of these questions are tackled in this research, by studying small bedrock river catchments. The case of a knickpoint propagation on a homogeneous resistant lithology (quartzite), triggered by an instantaneous base-level lowering ( 18 m in 13.6 ka), is evaluated here, as well as the effect of structure and the morphological response of rivers to base-level fall. Two approaches were followed: (1) stream profile analysis using slope-area and distance-slope plots and (2) the analysis of terrestrial cosmogenic nuclides to obtain erosion rates. The Isle of Jura, located in the west coast of Scotland, was selected as natural laboratory because bedrock rivers incise the landscape and rapid rock uplift resulting from glacio-isostatic rebound after the Last Glacial Maximum has left the Jura landscape in transience. The present research is organised in seven chapters. In chapter 1, the motivation for this research is presented. In chapter 2, a review of theory underpinning research on bedrock rivers, landscape evolution and knickpoint generation, is detailed. The relevant studies in the field are also reviewed. The physical setting of Jura is characterised in chapter 3, as well as the morphometry of catchments, stressing the effect of Quaternary glaciation on the landscape of Jura. Unpublished exposure ages and analysis of the resultant raised beaches (~35 m OD) of Jura’s west coast are used to demonstrate a sudden drop in base-level in Jura ~13.6 ka. Chapter 4 details how stream long profiles were extracted and how the slope-area (SA) and distance-slope (DS) analyses were undertaken. This chapter 4 shows that the Jura rivers have strong imprints related to glacial processes and base-level fall, making it difficult to use SA and DS models to estimate channel incision as has been done for large fluvial settings. Chapter 5 is explains how the base-level fall knickpoints were identified and it is shown that stream discharge is a first-order control on knickpoint propagation. Structure and lithology, on the other hand, are not first-order controls on knickpoint recession. Chapter 5 also evaluates the vertical distribution of knickpoints and morphological response of rivers after knickpoint migration, with the results indicating that stream power controls the vertical distribution of knickpoints and the morphological response of rivers to base-level fall. A threshold of ~5 km2, where rivers’ ability to modify their channel, resulting in a channel convex profile, is also identified. In chapter 6 the problem of bedrock incision and the role of sediment is tackled. Based on the sampling of sediment in fieldwork, it is demonstrated that the median fraction in the rivers of Jura is ≈45 mm and grain-size neither fines nor increases with stream discharge and channel slope, strongly indicating that detachment-limited conditions are likely to control bedrock incision. In the second part of chapter 6, the incision rates upstream and downstream of the base-level fall knickpoint are obtained to test whether incision rates are re-established after knickpoint propagation. Incision rates were obtained from the concentrations of cosmogenic 10Be in samples extracted from the river bed. The results indicate that incision rates are not re-established at an expected value of ≈ 0.1 m/k yr after knickpoint migration. Rather, incision rates below the knickpoint remain somewhat elevated (≈ 0.5 m/k yr) reflecting: (1) ongoing base-level fall, and/or (2) the propagation of younger knickpoints (< 13.6 ka) in those transient reaches. The cosmogenic-derived incision rates were tested with different bedrock incision rules. The results indicate that the stream power model is a good predictor for channel incision, even for the case of small catchments. In chapter 7 the conclusions of this research are provided.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Bedrock rivers, small catchments, transient landscape, base-level fall, Isle of Jura
Subjects: Q Science > QE Geology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GB Physical geography
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Bishop, Prof. Paul
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: Mr Miguel Castillo
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-2880
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 Oct 2011
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 14:01

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