Transverse canyon incision and sedimentary basin excavation driven by drainage integration, Aravaipa Creek, AZ, USA

Matthew C. Jungers, Arjun Heimsath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Drainage reorganization events have the potential to drive incision and erosion at high rates normally attributed to tectonic or climatic forcing. It can be difficult, however, to isolate the signal of transient events driven by drainage integration from longer term tectonic or climatic forcing. We exploit an ideal field setting in Aravaipa Creek Basin of southeastern Arizona, USA, to isolate just such a signal. Aravaipa Creek Basin underwent a period of transient incision that formed Aravaipa Canyon, evacuating a significant volume of sedimentary basin fill and Tertiary bedrock from the previously internally drained basin. We use digital terrain analyses to reconstruct the pre-incision landscapes of both Aravaipa Creek Basin and the adjacent Lower San Pedro Basin, which we use to quantify the magnitude of incision and erosion since the drainage basins integrated. Terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide burial dates from 10 Be and 26 Al concentrations in latest stage basin fill in Aravaipa Creek enable us to calculate long-term incision and erosion rates from 3 Myr to the present. A 10 Be concentration–depth profile from the Lower San Pedro Basin confirms that the San Pedro River incised into its high stand deposits prior to 350 000–400 000 years ago. Combining our landscape reconstructions with these age constraints, we determine that the transient rates of incision that created Aravaipa Canyon were 150 m/Myr or more, but that the background rate of erosion since integration is an order of magnitude lower, between 10 and 20 m/Myr. These results support our growing understanding that tectonic and climatic forcings need not apply for all episodes of rapid, transient incision and erosion during landscape evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1077-1090
Number of pages14
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • basin and range
  • drainage integration
  • evolution
  • geomorphology
  • landscape
  • transient response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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