Taylor & Francis Group
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Precipitation as a key control on erosion rates in the tectonically inactive northeastern Sonoran Desert, central Arizona, USA

posted on 2023-09-06, 17:00 authored by Ara Jeong, Yeong Bae Seong, Ronald I. Dorn, Byung Yong Yu

 Langbein and Schumm (1958) connected precipitation to erosion in a right-skewed curve used in earth science textbooks for over six decades, where denudation increases with precipitation on the arid/semiarid limb and decreases in humid regions. Development of the catchment-averaged 10Be denudation method a quarter-century ago led geomorphologists to evaluate this hypothesis using data not influenced by the Anthropocene, with mixed findings. The Sonoran Desert in Arizona, USA, is optimal for investigating the longstanding hypothesis of increased erosion from arid to semiarid climates due to: (i) the modern orographic effect aligning elevated precipitation with altitude, mirroring Neotoma packrat midden paleoecology research for the Holocene and late Pleistocene; (ii) the region has been tectonically quiet for the residence times of analyzed 10Be ranging from ca. 8,000-110,000 years. Our significant finding echoes Langbein and Schumm's work, revealing heightened erosion along an elevation-precipitation gradient from arid to semiarid conditions. Notably, the significance of precipitation-elevation contrasts with the absence of significant correlation between 10Be denudation and attributes like slope, drainage area, relief, or landform type (e.g., alluvial fan, pediment, mountain watershed). Modern faunalturbation, increasing along this gradient, exposes more ground to rainsplash and overland flow at higher elevations, adding complexity to these results. Further insights unveil that (i) catchments in areas with substantial Quaternary base level reduction imitate tectonic effects, tripling 10Be denudation rates; (ii) basaltic boulders and cobbles yield an armoring influence; (iii) historical erosion acceleration due to urbanization and wildfires insignificantly affects 10Be denudation rates in the Sonoran Desert; and (iv) minute desert catchments yield anomalous erosion rates.