Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Links between erosion, runoff variability and seismicity in the Taiwan orogen


The erosion of mountain belts controls their topographic and structural evolution1,2,3 and is the main source of sediment delivered to the oceans4. Mountain erosion rates have been estimated from current relief and precipitation, but a more complete evaluation of the controls on erosion rates requires detailed measurements across a range of timescales. Here we report erosion rates in the Taiwan mountains estimated from modern river sediment loads, Holocene river incision and thermochronometry on a million-year scale. Estimated erosion rates within the actively deforming mountains are high (3–6 mm yr-1) on all timescales, but the pattern of erosion has changed over time in response to the migration of localized tectonic deformation. Modern, decadal-scale erosion rates correlate with historical seismicity and storm-driven runoff variability. The highest erosion rates are found where rapid deformation, high storm frequency and weak substrates coincide, despite low topographic relief.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Location and geotectonic framework of Taiwan.
Figure 2: Erosion rates in Taiwan across multiple timescales.
Figure 3: Seismic, hydrological and topographic controls on denudation pattern.
Figure 4: Correlations between erosion rates and their controls.


  1. Koons, P. O. The topographic evolution of collisional mountain belts: A numerical look at the Southern Alps, New Zealand. Am. J. Sci. 289, 1041–1069 (1989)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Beaumont, C., Fullsack, P. & Hamilton, J. in Thrust Tectonics (ed. McClay, K. R.) 1–18 (Chapman and Hall, London, 1992)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  3. Willett, S. D. Orogeny and orography: the effects of erosion on the structure of mountain belts. J. Geophys. Res. 104, 28957–28981 (1999)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Milliman, J. D. & Syvitsky, J. P. M. Geomorphic/tectonic control of sediment discharge to the ocean: The importance of small mountainous rivers. J. Geol. 100, 525–544 (1992)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Teng, L. S. Geotectonic evolution of late Cenozoic arc-continent collision in Taiwan. Tectonophysics 183, 57–76 (1990)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Liew, P. M. et al. Holocene tectonic uplift deduced from elevated shorelines, eastern Coast Range of Taiwan. Tectonophysics 222, 55–68 (1993)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Liu, T. K. Tectonic implications of fission-track ages from the Central Range, Taiwan. Proc. Geol. Soc. China 25, 22–37 (1982)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Shieh, S. L. et al. Users' Guide for Typhoon Forecasting in the Taiwan Area (VIII) (Central Weather Bureau, Taipei, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  9. Hovius, N., Stark, C. P., Chu, H. T. & Lin, J. C. Supply and removal of sediment in a landslide-dominated mountain belt: Central Range, Taiwan. J. Geol. 108, 73–89 (2000)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Hartshorn, K., Hovius, N., Dade, W. B. & Slingerland, R. L. Climate-driven bedrock incision in an active mountain belt. Science 297, 2036–2038 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Water Resources Agency. Hydrological Yearbook of Taiwan, Republic of China (Ministry of Economic Affairs, Taipei, 1970–2001); at 〈〉.

  12. Li, Y. H. Denudation of Taiwan island since the Pleistocene epoch. Geology 4, 105–107 (1976)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Fuller, C. W., Willett, S. D., Hovius, N. & Slingerland, R. Erosion rates for Taiwan mountain basins: New determinations from suspended sediment records and a stochastic model of their temporal variation. J. Geol. 111, 71–87 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Hsieh, M. L. & Knuepfer, P. L. K. Middle-late Holocene river terraces in Erjen River basin, south-western Taiwan—implications of river response to climate change and active tectonic uplift. Geomorphology 38, 337–372 (2001)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Willett, S. D., Fisher, D., Fuller, C., Yeh, E. C. & Lu, C. Y. Erosion rates and orogenic wedge kinematics in Taiwan inferred from apatite fission track thermochronometry. Geology 31, 945–948 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Hickman, J. B., Wiltschko, D. V., Hung, J. H., Fang, P. & Bock, Y. in Geology and Geophysics of an Arc-Continent Collision, Taiwan (eds Byrne, T. B. & Liu, C. S.) 75–92 (Geological Society of America Special Paper 358, GSA, Boulder, CO, 2002)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  17. Hsieh, M. L. & Knuepfer, P. L. K. in Geology and Geophysics of an Arc-Continent Collision, Taiwan (eds Byrne, T. B. & Liu, C. S.) 55–74 (Geological Society of America Special Paper 358, GSA, Boulder, CO, 2002)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  18. Liew, P. M., Kuo, C. M., Huang, S. Y. & Tseng, M. H. Vegetation change and terrestrial carbon storage in eastern Asia during the Last Glacial Maximum as indicated by a new pollen record from central Taiwan. Glob. Planet. Change 16–17, 85–94 (1998)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Keefer, D. K. Landslides caused by earthquakes. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 95, 406–421 (1984)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Yu, S. B., Chen, H. Y. & Kuo, L. C. Velocity field of GPS stations in the Taiwan area. Tectonophysics 274, 41–59 (1997)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Montgomery, D. R., Balco, G. & Willett, S. D. Climate, tectonics, and the morphology of the Andes. Geology 27, 579–582 (2001)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Finlayson, D. P., Montgomery, D. R. & Hallet, B. Spatial coincidence of rapid inferred erosion with young metamorphic massifs in the Himalayas. Geology 30, 219–222 (2002)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Kao, S. J. & Liu, K. K. Estimating the suspended sediment load by using the historical hydrometric record from the Lanyang-Hsi watershed. Terrestr. Atmos. Oceanic Sci. 12, 401–414 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Cohn, T. A. Recent advances in statistical methods for the estimation of sediment and nutrient transport in rivers. Rev. Geophys. 33(suppl.) 1–18 (1995)

    Google Scholar 

  25. Stuiver, M. & Raimer, P. J. Extended 14C data base and revised CALIB 3.0 14C age calibration program. Radiocarbon 35, 215–230 (1993)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Bagnold, R. A. The flow of cohesionless grains in fluids. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 249, 335–397 (1956)

    MathSciNet  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Whipple, K. X. & Tucker, G. E. Dynamics of the stream-power river incision model: Implications for height limits of mountain ranges, landscape response timescales, and research needs. J. Geophys. Res. 104, 17661–17674 (1999)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Ho, C. S. An Introduction to the Geology of Taiwan: Explanatory Text of the Geological Map of Taiwan 2nd edn (Central Geological Survey, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Taipei, 1986)

    Google Scholar 

  29. Carena, S., Suppe, J. & Kao, H. Active detachment of Taiwan illuminated by small earthquakes and its control of first-order topography. Geology 30, 935–938 (2002)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Ekström, G. & Dziewonski, A. M. Evidence of bias in the estimation of earthquake size. Nature 332, 319–323 (1988)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council with a CASE addition from Faber Maunsell plc, and by the Taiwan National Science Council, and the Royal Society. We thank P. Molnar and D. Burbank for constructive reviews, and N. Lang and S. Pegg for assistance with data analysis.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Simon J. Dadson.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Dadson, S., Hovius, N., Chen, H. et al. Links between erosion, runoff variability and seismicity in the Taiwan orogen. Nature 426, 648–651 (2003).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing