Tipping the balance: Shifts in sediment production in an active rift setting
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Landscapes in actively developing rifts respond to tectonic forcing over a similar time scale to that of fault array evolution (i.e., 10^5–10^6 yr). Consequently transient landscapes (i.e., not in topographic steady state) predominate, characterized by focused incision along extensional fault scarps and regional tectonic tilting of surface slopes across strike. Using a field-calibrated numerical model to explore the controls on landscape evolution across the Corinth rift, central Greece, we demonstrate that this tilting, although subtle, leads to a shift in dominant source area as well as a shift toward sediment-starved conditions within the basin. We show, by comparing model runs with and without imposing tectonic forcing, that the impact of active faulting on relief development along the most active Corinth rift margin locally increases erosion rates and footwall incision. However, the overall sediment flux from this margin is reduced because back-tilting lowers erosion rates in catchment headwaters. Conversely, the hanging-wall side of the rift, as it is downwarped, supplies relatively more sediment as rift-directed channel slopes increase even though the relief is decreasing. In summary, we show that tilting plays a key role in controlling the syn-rift sediment flux and, in a counterintuitive way, modifies the relationship between topographic relief and catchment-averaged erosion rates. Our results provide a new perspective on the origin and timing of sediment starvation relative to structural development in rifts.