Articles | Volume 1, issue 1
Research article
07 Oct 2013
Research article |  | 07 Oct 2013

Climate, tectonics or morphology: what signals can we see in drainage basin sediment yields?

T. J. Coulthard and M. J. Van de Wiel

Abstract. Sediment yields from river basins are typically considered to be controlled by tectonic and climatic drivers. However, climate and tectonics can operate simultaneously and the impact of autogenic processes scrambling or shredding these inputs can make it hard to unpick the role of these drivers from the sedimentary record. Thus an understanding of the relative dominance of climate, tectonics or other processes in the output of sediment from a basin is vital. Here, we use a numerical landscape evolution model (CAESAR) to specifically examine the relative impact of climate change, tectonic uplift (instantaneous and gradual) and basin morphology on sediment yield. Unexpectedly, this shows how the sediment signal from significant rates of uplift (10 m instant or 25 mm a−1) may be lost due to internal storage effects within even a small basin. However, the signal from modest increases in rainfall magnitude (10–20%) can be seen in increases in sediment yield. In addition, in larger basins, tectonic inputs can be significantly diluted by regular delivery from non-uplifted parts of the basin.