Isolating climatic, tectonic, and lithologic controls on mountain landscape evolution

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12 Scopus citations


Establishing that climate exerts an important general influence on topography in tectonically active settings has proven an elusive goal. Here, we show that climates ranging from arid to humid consistently influence fluvial erosional efficiency and thus topography, and this effect is captured by a simple metric that combines channel steepness and mean annual rainfall, ksnQ. Accounting for spatial rainfall variability additionally increases the sensitivity of channel steepness to lithologic and tectonic controls on topography, enhancing predictions of erosion and rock uplift rates, and supports the common assumption of a reference concavity near 0.5. In contrast, the standard channel steepness metric, ksn, intrinsically assumes that climate is uniform. Consequently, its use where rainfall varies spatially undermines efforts to distinguish climate from tectonic and lithologic effects, can bias reference concavity estimates, and may ultimately lead to false impressions about rock uplift patterns and other environmental influences. Capturing climate is therefore a precondition to understanding mountain landscape evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereadd8915
JournalScience Advances
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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