Prolonged seismically induced erosion and the mass balance of a large earthquake

Niels Hovius, Patrick Meunier, Ching Weei Lin, Hongey Chen, Yue Gau Chen, Simon Dadson, Ming Jame Horng, Max Lines

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

208 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Large earthquakes deform the Earth's surface and drive topographic growth in the frontal zones of mountain belts. They also induce widespread mass wasting, reducing relief. The sum of these two opposing effects is unknown. Using a time series of landslide maps and suspended sediment transport data, we show that the MW7.6 Chi-Chi earthquake in Taiwan was followed by a period of enhanced mass wasting and fluvial sediment evacuation, peaking at more than five times the background rate and returning progressively to pre-earthquake levels in about six years. Therefore it is now possible to calculate the mass balance and topographic effect of the earthquake. The Choshui River has removed sediment representing more than 30% of the added rock mass from the epicentral area. This has resulted in a reduction of surface uplift by up to 0.25m, or 35% of local elevation change, and a reduction of the area where the Chi-Chi earthquake has built topography. For other large earthquakes, erosion may evolve in similar, predictable ways, reducing the efficiency of mountain building in fold-and-thrust belts and the topographic expression of seismogenic faults, prolonging the risk of triggered processes, and impeding economic regeneration of epicentral areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-355
Number of pages9
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume304
Issue number3-4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Apr 15

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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