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Steady, Balanced Rates of Uplift and Erosion of the Santa Monica Mountains, California

Andrew J. Meigs, Nicholas Brozović, & Mike Johnson

Published March 1999, SCEC Contribution #415

Topographic change in regions of active deformation is a function of rates of uplift and denudation. The rate of topographic development and change of an actively uplifting mountain range, the Santa Monica Mountains, southern California, was assessed using landscape attributes of the present topography, uplift rates and denudation rates. Landscape features were characterized through analysis of a digital elevation model (DEM). Uplift rates at time scales ranging from 104 to 106 years were constrained with geological cross-sections and published estimates. Denudation rate was determined from sediment yield data from debris basins in southern California and from the relief of rivers set into geomorphic surfaces of known age. First-order morphology of the Santa Monica Mountains is set by large-scale along-strike variations in structural geometry. Drainage spacing, drainage geometry and to a lesser extent relief are controlled by bedrock strength. Dissection of the range flanks and position of the principal drainage divide are modulated by structural asymmetry and differences in structural relief across the range. Topographic and catchment-scale relief are ≈300–900 m. Mean denudation rate derived from the sediment yield data and river incision is 0.5±0.3 mm yr−1. Uplift rate across the south flank of the range is ≈0.5±0.4 mm yr−1 and across the north flank is 0.24±0.12 mm yr−1. At least 1.6–2.7 Myr is required to create either the present topographic or the catchment-scale relief based on either the mean rates of denudation or uplift. Although the landscape has had sufficient time to achieve a steady-state form, comparison of the time-scale of uplift and denudation rate variation with probable landscape response times implies the present topography does not represent the steady-state form.

Meigs, A. J., Brozović, N., & Johnson, M. (1999). Steady, Balanced Rates of Uplift and Erosion of the Santa Monica Mountains, California. Basin Research, 11(1), 59-73. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2117.1999.00083.x .