The Earth’s sedimentary successions are an archive of past tectonic and climate events1, 2. The physical characteristics of the sediment record are controlled by three main factors: the sediment supply from the eroding source region, the grain size distribution of that sediment supply, and the area available for sediment accumulation in the downstream regions3, 4. The interplay of these factors can make the interpretation of a climatic or tectonic signal complex, particularly as these processes are nonlinear. Here we assess the evolution of a tectonically active landscape undergoing erosional and depositional processes, using a numerical model that incorporates variations in grain size and the volumetric sediment budget. Our simulations indicate that changes in precipitation and tectonic uplift both generate characteristic patterns of grain size and stratigraphic geometry. An increase in catchment precipitation results in the deposition of a laterally extensive sheet of coarse gravel. The responses to a changing tectonic regime are more diverse: a large increase in uplift rate results first in the deposition of sediments of larger grain size at proximal sites, followed by a reduction in grain size at distal locations. We conclude that the stratigraphic record is strongly controlled by the grain size of sediments released from catchments undergoing tectonic or climatic change.
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