News & Events

Noon seminar - Geomorphic and climatic significance of bedrock scarps on normal-fault footwalls

Monday, February 28, 2011, 12:00PM - 1:00PM


Greg Tucker

CIRES and Department of Geological Sciences


ARC 620

The existence of well-preserved Holocene bedrock fault scarps along active normal faults in the Mediterranean region and elsewhere suggests a dramatic reduction in rates of rock weathering and erosion that correlates with the transition from glacial to interglacial climate. We test and quantify this interpretation using a case study in the Italian Central Apennines. Holocene rates are derived from measurements of weathering-pit depth along the Magnola scarp, where previous cosmogenic 36Cl analyses constrain exposure history. To estimate the average hillslope erosion rate over ~105 years, we introduce a simple geometric model of normal-fault footwall slope evolution. The model predicts that the gradient of a weathering-limited footwall hillslope is set by fault dip angle and by the ratio of slip rate to erosion rate; if either slip or erosion rate is known, the other can be derived. Applying this model to the Magnola fault yields an estimated average weathering rate on the order of 0.2-0.4 mm/yr, more than 10x higher than either the Holocene scarp weathering rate or modern regional limestone weathering rates. A numerical model of footwall growth and erosion, in which erosion rate tracks the oxygen-isotope curve, reproduces the main features of hillslope and scarp morphology and suggests that the hillslope erosion rate has varied by about a factor of 30 over the past one to two glacial cycles. We conclude that preservation of carbonate fault scarps reflects strong climatic control on rock breakdown by frost cracking.