Quantifying hillslope erosion rates and processes for a coastal California landscape over varying timescales

Colin R. O'Farrell, Arjun M. Heimsath, James M. Kaste

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The Earth's surface erodes by processes that occur over different spatial and temporal scales. Both continuous, low-magnitude processes as well as infrequent, high-magnitude events drive erosion of hilly soil-mantled landscapes. To determine the potential variability of erosion rates we applied three independent, field-based methods to a well-studied catchment in the Marin Headlands of northern California. We present short-term, basin-wide erosion rates determined by measuring pond sediment volume (40 years) and measured activities of the fallout nuclides 137Cs and 210Pb (40-50 years) for comparison with long-term (>10 ka) rates previously determined from in situ-produced cosmogenic 10Be and 26Al analyses. In addition to determining basin-averaged rates, 137Cs and 210Pb enable us to calculate point-specific erosion rates and use these rates to infer dominant erosion processes across the landscape. When examined in the context of established geomorphic transport laws, the correlations between point rates of soil loss from 137Cs and 210Pb inventories and landscape morphometry (i.e. topographic curvature and upslope drainage area) demonstrate that slope-driven processes dominate on convex areas while overland flow processes dominate in concave hollows and channels. We show a good agreement in erosion rates determined by three independent methods: equivalent denudation rates of 143 ± 41 m Ma-1 from pond sediment volume, 136 ± 36 m Ma-1 from the combination of 137Cs and 210Pb, and 102 ± 25 m Ma-1 from 10Be and 26Al. Such agreement suggests that erosion of this landscape is not dominated by extreme events; rather, the rates and processes observed today are indicative of those operating for at least the past 10 000 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)544-560
Number of pages17
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 15 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Cosmogenic nuclides
  • Cs
  • Geomorphology
  • Landscape evolution
  • Pb

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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