High relief and steep rainfall gradients make the eastern flank of the northern Bolivian Andes an excellent location for deciphering the relative roles of tectonics and climate on erosion and landscape evolution. We seek to resolve the climate versus tectonics debate in this location by linking topographic analyses and erosion rate data with fluvial bedrock incision theory and numerical landscape evolution modeling. We find that patterns in the channel steepness index (channel slope normalized for drainage area) in both transverse channels that drain across the rainfall gradient through the driest and wettest parts of the landscapes, and frontal channels that drain only the wettest regions are indicative primarily of a gradient in rock uplift rate, although climate likely plays a secondary role in shaping these channel profiles. Previously published erosion rates from 23 watersheds vary with the proposed rock uplift gradient and inversely with rainfall rate, suggesting that increased rainfall is not driving increased rock uplift and erosion. The channel steepness index in an additional 35 tributary watersheds increases with the proposed rock uplift gradient. Simulations from a landscape evolution model that isolate the signatures of rainfall and uplift patterns on landscape morphology corroborate our interpretation that the morphology of this landscape is primarily controlled by a gradient in rock uplift rate, with rainfall rates playing a secondary role. Model results also suggest that the differences between channel steepness values in the transverse and frontal channels cannot be explained by the uplift and rainfall patterns alone. Differences in lithology may be contributing to the higher channel steepness values in the transverse channels, or the transverse channels may be affected by a transient oversteepening phenomenon seen in tools-and-cover river incision models. The conclusions are possible only after detailed comparisons among real and modeled rivers of different sizes that drain different locations. We present best practices for future studies that seek to resolve the relative imprint of rock uplift and rainfall on a landscape.
ASJC Scopus subject areas