Expanses of subdued topographies are common at high elevation in mountain ranges. They are often interpreted as relict landscapes and are expected to be replaced by steeper topography as erosion proceeds. Preservation of such relict fragments can merely reflect the fact that it takes time to remove any preexisting topography. However, relict fragments could also possess intrinsic characteristics that make them resilient to dissection. We document here the propagation of a wave of dissection across an uplifted relict landscape in Puerto Rico. Using 10Be-26Al burial dating on cave sediments, we show that uplift started 4 Ma and that river knickpoints have since migrated very slowly across the landscape. Modern detrital 10Be erosion rates are consistent with these long-term rates of knickpoint retreat. Analysis of knickpoint distribution, combined with visual observations along the streambeds, indicates that incision by abrasion and plucking is so slow that bedrock weathering becomes a competing process of knickpoint retreat. The studied rivers flow over a massive stock of quartz diorite surrounded by an aureole of metavolcanic rocks. Earlier studies have shown that vegetation over the relict topography efficiently limits erosion, allowing for the formation of a thick saprolite underneath. Such slow erosion reduces streambed load fluxes delivered to the knickpoints, as well as bed load grain size. Both processes limit abrasion. Compounding the effect of slow abrasion, wide joint spacing in the bedrock makes plucking infrequent. Thus, the characteristics of the relict upstream landscape have a direct effect on stream incision farther downstream, reducing the celerity at which the relict, subdued landscape is dissected. We conclude that similar top-down controls on river incision rate may help many relict landscapes to persist amidst highly dissected topographies.
Gilles Y. Brocard, Jane K. Willenbring, Thomas E. Miller, Frederik N. Scatena (2016): Relict landscape resistance to dissection by upstream migrating knickpoints. Journal of Geophysical Research. DOI: 10.1002/2015JF003678
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.