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

Abstract

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.

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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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Correspondence to Simon J. Dadson.

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Dadson, S., Hovius, N., Chen, H. et al. Links between erosion, runoff variability and seismicity in the Taiwan orogen. Nature 426, 648–651 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02150

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