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Knickpoint retreat and transient bedrock channel morphology triggered by base-level fall in small bedrock river catchments: The case of the Isle of Jura, Scotland

Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2012.08.023
  • Bedrock River
  • Knickpoint Retreat
  • Base-Level Fall
  • Transience
  • Stream Discharge
  • Channel Slope


Abstract A sudden drop in river base-level can trigger a knickpoint that propagates throughout the fluvial network causing a transient state in the landscape. Knickpoint retreat has been confirmed in large fluvial settings (drainage areas >100km2) and field data suggest that the same applies to the case of small bedrock river catchments (drainage areas <100km2). Nevertheless, knickpoint recession on resistant lithologies with structure that potentially affects the retreat rate needs to be confirmed with field-based data. Moreover, it remains unclear whether small bedrock rivers can absorb base-level fall via knickpoint retreat. Here we evaluate the response of small bedrock rivers to base-level fall on the isle of Jura in western Scotland (UK), where rivers incise into dipping quartzite. The mapping of raised beach deposits and strath terraces, and the analysis of stream long profiles, were used to identify knickpoints that had been triggered by base-level fall. Our results indicate that the distance of knickpoint retreat scales to the drainage area in a power law function irrespective of structural setting. On the other hand, local channel slope and basin size influence the vertical distribution of knickpoints. As well, at low drainage areas (~4km2) rivers are unable to absorb the full amount of base-level fall and channel reach morphology downstream of the knickpoint tends towards convexity. The results obtained here confirm that knickpoint retreat is mostly controlled by stream discharge, as has been observed for other transient landscapes. Local controls, reflecting basin size and channel slope, have an effect on the vertical distribution of knickpoints; such controls are also related to the ability of rivers to absorb the base-level fall.

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