How canyons evolve by incision into bedrock: Rainbow Canyon, Death Valley National Park, United States

Li Zhang, Tiejian Li, Guangqian Wang, Jeffrey S. Kwang, Jeffrey A. Nittrouer, Xudong Fu, Gary Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Incising rivers may be confined by low-slope, erodible hillslopes or steep, resistant sidewalls. In the latter case, the system forms a canyon. We present a morphodynamic model that includes the essential elements of a canyon incising into a plateau, including 1) abrasion-driven channel incision, 2) migration of a canyon-head knickpoint, 3) sediment feed from an alluvial channel upstream of the knickpoint, and 4) production of sediment by sidewall collapse. We calculate incision in terms of collision of clasts with the bed. We calculate knickpoint migration using a moving-boundary formulation that allows a slope discontinuity where the channel head meets an alluvial plateau feeder channel. Rather than modeling sidewall collapse events, we model long-term behavior using a constant sidewall slope as the channel incises. Our morphodynamic model specifically applies to canyon, rather than river–hillslope evolution. We implement it for Rainbow Canyon, CA. Salient results are as follows: 1) Sediment supply from collapsing canyon sidewalls can be substantially larger than that supplied from the feeder channel on the plateau. 2) For any given quasi-equilibrium canyon bedrock slope, two conjugate slopes are possible for the alluvial channel upstream, with the lower of the two corresponding to a substantially lower knickpoint migration rate and higher preservation potential. 3) Knickpoint migration occurs at a substantially faster time scale than regrading of the bedrock channel itself, underlying the significance of disequilibrium processes. Although implemented for constant climactic conditions, the model warrants extension to long-term climate variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14730-14737
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume117
Issue number26
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 30 2020

Keywords

  • Canyonc bedrock
  • Incision
  • Knickpoint
  • Uplift

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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