Articles | Volume 8, issue 4
18 Aug 2008
 | 18 Aug 2008

Dendrogeomorphically derived slope response to decadal and centennial scale climate variability: Black Mesa, Arizona, USA

L. A. Scuderi, L. D. McFadden, and J. R. McAuliffe

Abstract. A major impediment to an understanding of the links between climate and landscape change, has been the relatively coarse resolution of landscape response measures (rates of weathering, sediment production, erosion and transport) relative to the higher resolution of the climatic signal (precipitation and temperature on hourly to annual time scales). A combination of high temporal and spatial resolution dendroclimatic and dendrogeomorphic approaches were used to study relationships between climatic variability and hillslope and valley floor dynamics in a small drainage basin in the Colorado Plateau of northeastern Arizona, USA Dendrogeomorphic and vegetation evidence from slopes and valley bottoms, including root exposure, bending of trunks, change in plant cover and burial and exhumation of valley bottom trees and shrubs, suggest that the currently observed process of root colonization and rapid breakdown of the weakly cemented bedrock by subaerial weathering, related to periodic dry/wet cycle induced changes in vegetation cover, has lead to a discontinuous, climate-controlled production of sediment from these slopes. High-amplitude precipitation shifts over the last 2000-years may exert the largest control on landscape processes and may be as, or more, important than other hypothesized causal mechanisms (e.g. ENSO frequency and intensity, flood frequency) in eroding slopes and producing sediments that ultimately impact higher order drainages in the region. Current vegetation response to a prolonged drought over the past decade suggests that another major transition, incorporating vegetation change, slope erosion, sediment production and subsequent valley floor deposition, may be in its initial phase.