The contribution of large, slow-moving landslides to landscape evolution
Mackey, Benjamin Hunter
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Mackey, Benjamin Hunter
This dissertation discusses the contribution of deep-seated landslides and earthflows to the morphology, erosion, and evolution of mountainous landscapes, focusing on the northern California Coast Ranges. In active landscapes, channel incision is necessary to create relief but also increases stresses in adjacent hillslopes, ultimately leading to slope failure. While conceptually simple, the spatial relationships between channel incision and landsliding have not been well quantified. Along the South Fork Eel River, I mapped the distribution of deep-seated landslides using light detection and ranging (LiDAR) derived maps. Landslide density increases in regions subject to late Pleistocene-Holocene channel incision and particularly in response to lateral incision at the apex of meander bends. Wavelet analysis of channel sinuosity reveals hillslopes are most sensitive to meander wavelengths of 1.5 km. Argillaceous lithology generates abundant earthflow activity along the main stem Eel River, yet spatial and temporal patterns of earthflow movement are poorly understood. I undertook a detailed study of the Kekawaka Earthflow using LiDAR, meteoric 10 Be in soil, orthorectified historical aerial photographs, and field surveys. Inventories of 10 Be in soil pits increase systematically downslope, indicate an average movement rate of 2.1 ± 1.3 m/a over the past 150 years, and establish a minimum earthflow age of 1700 years. The Kekawaka earthflow has a systematic history of movement, both spatially, with greatest movement in the narrow transport zone, and temporally, as velocities peaked in the 1960's and have slowed since 1981. I used LiDAR and aerial photographs to map earthflow movement and calculate sediment flux across 226 km 2 of the main stem Eel River. From 1944-2006, 7.3% of the study area was active, and earthflows account for an erosion rate of 0.53 ± 0.04 mm/a, over half the regional average sediment yield. Velocity time series on 17 earthflows suggest temporal earthflow behavior is influenced by decadal-scale changes in precipitation, temperature, and river discharge, although local topographic factors can overwhelm this climatic signal. When active, earthflows erode an order of magnitude faster than surrounding terrain; however, source supply limitations appear to govern long- term earthflow evolution. This dissertation includes previously published coauthored material.