24 Feb 2021
24 Feb 2021
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESurf.

Global analysis of short- versus long-term drainage basin erosion rates

Shiuan-An Chen1, Katerina Michaelides1,2,3, Michael Bliss Singer3,4,5, and David A. Richards1,2 Shiuan-An Chen et al.
  • 1School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1SS, UK
  • 2Cabot Institute for the Environment, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  • 3Earth Research Institute, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California 91306, USA
  • 4School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF10 3AT, UK
  • 5Water Research Institute, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF10 3AX, UK

Abstract. Measuring erosion rates, analysing their temporal variations, and exploring environmental controls are crucial in the field of geomorphology because erosion through sediment transport in drainage basins shapes landforms and landscapes. Thus, important insights into landscape controls can be gleaned from analyses of erosion rates measured over different timescales. Suspended sediment flux and in situ cosmogenic radionuclides have been widely used for estimating short- and long-term erosion rates of drainage basins, respectively. Even though analyses of erosion rates have been conducted across the globe, there are still gaps in understanding of the links between environmental controls and erosion rates between timescales, especially the influence of climate, which is complex and covaries with other factors. To begin unpicking controls on landscape evolution across the globe, we compiled short- and long-term erosion rates (estimated from suspended sediment yield and in situ beryllium-10, 10Be, respectively) and analysed their relationships with climate, topography, and anthropogenic activity. The results show that: 1) A non-linear relationship exists between aridity and long-term erosion rates, resulting from the balance between precipitation and vegetation cover; 2) Long-term erosion rates are higher in mid- and high-latitude regions with high humidity, reflecting glacial processes during ice ages; 3) Long-term erosion rates are positively related to the steepness of drainage basins, showing that both climate and topography are the common factors; 4) Human activities increase short-term erosion rates which outweigh natural controls; and 5) The ratios of short- to long-term erosion rates are negatively related to basin area, reflecting the buffering capacity of large basins. These results highlight the complex interplay of controlling factors on land surface processes and reinforce the view that timescale of observation reveals different erosion rates and principal controls.

Shiuan-An Chen et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on esurf-2021-7', Anonymous Referee #1, 29 Mar 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on esurf-2021-7', Anonymous Referee #2, 15 Jun 2021
  • RC3: 'Comment on esurf-2021-7', John Jansen, 21 Jun 2021

Shiuan-An Chen et al.

Model code and software

Compilation of global short-term erosion data Chen, S.-A., Michaelides, K., Singer, M. B., and Richards, D. A.

Shiuan-An Chen et al.


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Short summary
Drainage basin erosion rate influences landform change through controlling sediment movement, but gaps still exist in understanding the links between environmental controls and erosion rates between timescales. We analysed global erosion rates and found that: Long-term erosion rates are controlled by aridity, former glacial processes, and basin steepness, whilst human activities enhance short-term erosion rates. The results highlight the complex interplay of controls on land surface processes.