Hillslope response to climate-modulated river incision and the role of deep-seated landslides in post-glacial sediment flux: Waipaoa Sedimentary System, New Zealand (2012)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury. Geological Sciences
AuthorsBilderback, Eric Lelandshow all
Quantifying how hillslopes respond to river incision and climate change is fundamental to understanding the geomorphic evolution of tectonically uplifting landscapes during glacial-interglacial cycles. Hillslope adjustment in the form of deep-seated bedrock landslides can account for a large proportion of the regional sediment yield and denudation rates for rapidly uplifting landscapes. However, the timing and magnitude of the response of hillslopes to climatic and tectonic forcing in moderate uplift temperate maritime catchments characteristic of many active margins worldwide is not well quantified. This study seeks to investigate how hillslopes respond to climate-modulated river incision and to quantify the magnitude of the sediment flux from this response in a typical active margin setting. The non-glacialWaipaoa Sedimentary System (WSS) on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand consists of river catchments, coastal foothills to uplifting mountain ranges, and terrestrial and marine sediment depocentres collectively underlain by relatively young (Cretaceous and younger) sedimentary rocks within a tectonically active setting and temperate maritime climate. These attributes make theWSS similar to many coastal catchments on oceanic-continental convergent margins worldwide. However, because of widespread destruction of primary forests for conversion to pasture lands by the mid 20th Century, theWSS is currently a globally significant source of sediment to the world’s oceans. Because of these factors, theWSS was selected as one of two global study sites for the international, NSF supported, MARGINS Source-to-Sink initiative designed to investigate the transfer of sediment from terrestrial source to marine sink. Previous studies on theWSS have shown a strong link between climate change and geomorphic response in the system. River incision since the last glacial coldest period has generated a significant amount of topography, leaving small remnants of the ca.18,000 cal. yr BP last glacial aggradation terrace scattered up to 120 m above modern rivers. In this study, the hillslope response to river incision is quantitatively examined using new high resolution topographic data sets (lidar and photogrammetry) in combination with 3 field mapping and tephrochronology. Hillslopes are found to be coupled to river incision and adjusted to rapid incision through the initiation and reactivation of deep-seated landslides. In the erodible marine sedimentary rocks of the terrestrialWSS, post-incision deep-seated landslides can occupy over 30% of the surface area. Many of these slides show evidence of multiple “nested” failures and landslide reactivation. The ages of tephra cover beds identified by electron microprobe analysis show that following an initial 4,000 to 5,000 year time lag after the initiation of river incision, widespread hillslope adjustment started between the deposition of the ca. 13,600 cal. yr BPWaiohau tephra and the ca. 9,500 cal. yr BP Rotoma tephra. Tephrochronology and geomorphic mapping analysis indicates that river incision and deep-seated landslide slope adjustment is synchronous between mainstem rivers and headwater tributaries. Tephrochronology further shows that many slopes have continued to adjust to channel incision into the late Holocene. Hillslope response in the catchment can involve the entire hillslope from river to ridgeline, with some interfluves between incising sub-catchments being dramatically modified through ridgeline retreat and/or lowering. Using the results of the landform tephrochronology and geomorphic mapping, a conceptual time series of hillslope response to uplift and climate change-induced river incision is derived for a timeframe encompassing the last glacial-interglacial cycle. Using the same high resolution topography datasets, in-depth field analysis, and tephrochronology, the 18,000 year sediment yield from terrestrial deep-seated landslides in theWSS is estimated in order to investigate the magnitude of hillslope response to climate-modulated, uplift driven river incision. This completes one of the first processbased millennial time-scale sediment budgets for this class of temperate maritime, active margin catchments. Fluvial and geomorphic modelling is applied to reconstruct pre 18,000 cal. yr BP topography in 141 km2 of detailed study area and the resulting volumetric estimates from 207 landslides are used to estimate deep-seated landslide sediment flux for the broader system. An estimated 10.2 km3 of deep-seated landslidederived sediment with a multiplicative uncertainty of 1.9 km3 (+9.2 km3, -4.8 km3) was delivered to terrestrial and marine sinks. This accounts for between 10 and 74% of the total mass of the terrestrialWSS budget of ca. 91,000 Mt (+37,000 Mt, -26,000 Mt). Combining the deep-seated landslide results with other studies of terrestrial sediment sources and terrestrial and shelf sinks, the estimated terrestrial source load ranges from 4 Abstract 1.2 to 3.7 times larger than the mass of sediment sequestered in terrestrial and shelf depocentres. This implies that off-shelf transport of sediment is important in this system over the last 18,000 cal. yr BP, as it is today for anthropogenic reasons. Based on the derived sediment budget, the denudation rate for the terrestrialWSS of 0.8 mm yr-1 (+0.3 mm yr-1, -0.2 mm yr-1) is indistinguishable from the average terrestrialWaipaoa late Quaternary uplift rate, indicating an approximate steady-state balance between denudation and uplift. This thesis provides a quantitative analysis of the role of deepseated landslides in an active margin catchment that is used to improve the understanding of landscape and terrestrial source-to-marine-sink sediment transfer dynamics.