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The scarp midpoint is the least diagnostic point
ied within the context of the diffusion model of
along the entire scarp pro¬le, and it is the point
hillslope evolution for over forty years. In that
that is also most sensitive to uncertainty in the
time, researchers have taken several different ap-
initial scarp angle. As a scarp evolves, the greatest
proaches to analyzing scarps. In this section, we
amount of erosion and deposition occurs where
present the analytic solutions to the diffusion
the magnitude of the hillslope curvature is great-
equation appropriate for pluvial shoreline and
est, near the top and bottom of the scarp. The
fault scarps. In addition, however, we also com-
scarp midpoint is a point of in¬‚ection with zero
pare and contrast past approaches in order to
curvature, and hence this point changes the least
put the analytic solutions into the historical con-
of all points along the pro¬le for young scarps.
text of other approaches. By comparing different
An alternative approach is to ¬t the entire scarp
methods for scarp analysis and modeling, we are
(or its derivative, the hillslope gradient) to an-
able to explore some of the subtleties involved in
alytical or numerical solutions of the diffusion
comparing model predictions with natural land-
equation (linear or nonlinear). Avouac and his col-
forms. For example, how do we handle uncer-
leagues (Avouac, 1993; Avouac and Peltzer, 1993)
tainty in the landform initial condition at some
pioneered the use of this technique in fault-scarp
point in the past? How do we handle measure-
studies in Asia. Mattson and Bruhn (2001) ex-
ment uncertainty and random variability in the
tended the technique to include uncertainty in
the initial scarp angle.
Pluvial shoreline scarps form by wave-cut ac-
Figure 2.9 presents an oblique aerial view of
tion during a prolonged period of lake-level high
the shoreline in east-central Tule Valley as it cuts
stand. Following lake-level fall, scarps formed in
across several distinct alluvial fan terraces. This
unconsolidated alluvium evolve to an angle of re-
¬gure illustrates that scarp height is controlled
pose by mass movements and then further evolve
primarily by the slope of the fan terrace, with
by diffusive hillslope processes.
the tallest scarps formed in steeply dipping al-
Historical scarp-analysis methods come in two
luvial fan terraces and debris cones close to the
basic types: midpoint-slope methods and full-
mountain front.
scarp methods. Mid-point slope methods can be
The geometry of a general scarp is de¬ned
further divided into two types. In the ¬rst type,
by the scarp height 2a, initial gradient ±, and
the midpoint slope of a single scarp is inverted
far-¬eld gradient b (Figure 2.10a). The initial and
for diffusion age using the analytic solution
far-¬eld gradients can be combined for the pur-
to the diffusion equation (Andrews and Hanks,
poses of scarp analysis into a single variable: the
1985). In the second approach, the midpoint gra-
reduced initial gradient ± ’ b. The analytic solu-
dient is plotted versus scarp offset for a collection
tion to the diffusion equation for a general scarp
of many scarps with different heights (Bucknam

House Range

Dome Canyon

Bonneville scarp


8 m vert.

is mathematically simpler because the derivative
Fig 2.9 Virtual oblique aerial photograph (i.e. aerial photo
draped over digital topography) of pluvial features on the east of Eq. (2.46) is a more compact expression:
side of central Tule Valley. Scarp height is primarily controlled
‚h(x, t) (± ’ b) x + a/(± ’ b)
’b = √
by the slope of the alluvial-fan and debris-cone deposits, i.e.
‚x 2 4κt
wave-cut erosion of steeply dipping deposits tends to
x ’ a/(± ’ b)
produce steep, tall scarps. Inset photo shows 8 m tall scarp at
’ erf √ (2.47)
the entrance to Dome Canyon. 4κt
The left-hand side of Eq. (2.47) is called the re-
duced gradient pro¬le (i.e. the gradient pro¬le
was given by Hanks and Andrews (1989) as
reduced by b, in order to take the far-¬eld gra-
κt x+a/(±’b))2 x’a/(±’b))2 dient into account). Equations (2.46) and (2.47)
e’ ’ e’
h(x, t) = (± ’ b) 4κt 4κt
π are plotted in Figure 2.1 for a range of diffu-
(± ’ b) x + a/(± ’ b) sion ages κt and reduced initial scarp gradients,
+ x+ √
±’b ± ’ b. Figure 2.10b illustrates that the midpoint
2 4κt
x ’ a/(± ’ b) of the scarp is insensitive to age for young, tall
’ x’ + bx

±’b scarps. Note that in Figure 2.9, the units of the
x-axis are scaled to the scarp width x0 , which, in
turn, is scaled to the scarp height through the re-
lationship x0 = a/(± ’ b). Figure 2.10c illustrates
Full-scarp analyses can be performed by compar-
ing the measured elevation pro¬le of a scarp to that, as the reduced initial gradient decreases,
Eq. (2.46), or by taking the derivative of the ele- the age-diagnostic portion of the scarp becomes
vation pro¬le and working with the slope or gra- progressively concentrated away from the mid-
dient pro¬le. Working with the gradient pro¬le point towards the top and bottom of the scarp.

These plots suggest that full-scarp methods are
b (a)
a necessary to extract the independent controls
of scarp age and initial gradient on scarp mor-
h phology.
h0 Alternatively, a brute-force approach can be
used which computes analytic or numerical so-
lutions corresponding to a full range of model
parameters and then plots the error between
the model and measured pro¬les as a function
1 of each parameter value (e.g. diffusion age and
initial gradient). The diffusion age is then con-
1 strained by the model pro¬le that has the lowest
error relative to the measured data. This brute-
b force approach is most often used, and it has the
advantage that the goodness-of-¬t can be evalu-
ated visually on a pro¬le-by-pro¬le basis. Avouac
0.5 (1993) and Arrowsmith et al. (1998) pioneered this
kt = 1.0 technique, assuming initial scarp angles between
30—¦ and 35—¦ . Mattson and Bruhn (2001) improved
= 0.3
kt = 0.01
upon this approach by including a range of initial
= 0.03
= 0.1 gradients in the analysis. Mattson and Bruhn™s er-
0 ror plots are thus two-dimensional, including a
0 1 2 3
range of both diffusion age and reduced initial
angle in the analysis.
0.5 kt = 0.25, 0.5, 1
(c) a ’ b = 0.5 Figures 2.11a and 2.11b illustrate the full-scarp
0.4 method on a short and a tall scarp, respectively,
kt = 0.25, 0.5, 1 each selected from the set of Bonneville scarps.
a - b = 0.35
0.3 The reduced gradient is plotted as a function of
kt = 0.25, 0.5, 1
-b distance along the pro¬le. To the right of each
a ’ b = 0.2
0.2 plot is a grayscale map that illustrates the rel-
ative least-square error between the model and
0.1 observed pro¬les for a range of diffusivity val-
ues and reduced initial gradients. In both maps,
0.0 black colors represent the lowest mismatch and
0 4 6
x/x0 X marks the spot of the optimal ¬t. The loca-
tion of this best-¬t solution in the model pa-
Fig 2.10 (a) Analytic solutions of the linear diffusion rameter space simultaneously determines diffu-
equation, starting from an initial gradient ±, scarp height 2h 0 , sivity and reduced initial gradient on a pro¬le-by-
and far-¬eld slope b. The initial scarp width, 2x 0 , is related to
pro¬le basis. In the short-scarp example case, the
height and reduced initial gradient by x 0 = h 0 /(±±b). (b)
best-¬t solution corresponds to κ = 0.95 m2 /kyr
Plots of reduced gradient corresponding to the pro¬les in (a).
and ± ’ b = 0.70. The black band running across
For small κt values (< 0.1), no change in the midpoint slope is
the grayscale map illustrates that, although the
observed, illustrating the insensitivity of the midpoint slope to
best-¬t solution occurs for ± ’ b = 0.70, the solu-
diffusion age for young scarps. (c) Plots of reduced gradient
tion is essentially independent of the reduced ini-
versus distance along pro¬le, for families of solutions
corresponding to a range of morphologic ages (κt = 0.25, tial gradient. This makes physical sense because,
0.5, 1) and a range of reduced initial gradients (± ’ b = 0.2, for a short, narrow scarp, diffusive smoothing
0.35, 0.5). quickly reduces the maximum slope to a value
far below the angle of repose. For a tall, broad
scarp (Figure 2.11b), however, the scarp form is

of the slope break at the top and bottom of the
short scarp (a) scarp. The reduced initial gradient is determined
by the shape of the ¬‚at, central portion of the gra-
0.3 dient pro¬le shown in Figure 2.11b (also shown
in the analytic solutions of Figure 2.1f).
0.2 k = 0.95 m2/kyr
a ’ b = 0.70 7
2.2.8 Degradation of archeological ruins
a’ b 1.4
In the summer of 2006 I performed ¬eld work in
Tibet with Jennifer Boerner. Tibet is full of impor-
tant archeological ruins, and I wondered whether
tall scarp
the degradation of stone-wall ruins could be de-
k = 0.78 m2/kyr
a ’ b = 0.48
scribed by a diffusion model. Stone walls begin
as consolidated, vertical structures. Over time
scales of centuries to millennia following aban-
donment, however, mortar will degrade, stones
a’ b 1.4
will topple, and surface processes (creep, biotur-
bation, eolian deposition, etc.) will act to smooth
the surface.
’30 ’20 ’10 0 10 20 30
x (m) Figure 2.12 illustrates the application of the
diffusion equation to stone ruins in western Ti-
Fig 2.11 Full-scarp curve-¬tting method illustrated for (a)
bet. Figure 2.12a illustrates the solution to the
short and (b) tall example Bonneville scarps. The reduced
diffusion equation with an initially vertical struc-
gradient is plotted as a function of distance from the scarp
midpoint. Grayscale maps to the right of each plot illustrate ture. This equation is identical to the solution for
the relative error between the observed and modeled scarp the gradient pro¬le of a scarp, Eq. (2.47):
as a function of diffusivity κ and reduced initial gradient ± ’ b.
x + x0 x ’ x0
In both maps, black colors represent the lowest mismatch h(x, t) = ’ erf
√ √
erf (2.48)
2x0 4κt 4κt
and X marks the spot of the optimal ¬t. The location of this
best-¬t solution in the model parameter space simultaneously
where h 0 is the initial height of the wall and
determines diffusivity and reduced initial gradient on a
x0 is the half-width. Figure 2.12b presents an
pro¬le-by-pro¬le basis. In the short-scarp example case in (a),
oblique view of one example of stone ruins in
the best-¬t solution corresponds to κ = 0.95 m2 /kyr and
Tibet. These degraded walls are up to 0.5 m tall
± ’ b = 0.70. The black band running across the grayscale
and have spread out to cover a width of several
map illustrates that, although the best-¬t solution occurs for
± ’ b = 0.70, the solution is essentially independent of the meters. Figure 2.12d presents a contour plot of
reduced initial gradient. This makes physical sense because, a detailed topographic survey of a small section
for a short, narrow scarp, diffusive smoothing quickly reduces of one of these ruins. Figure 2.12c plots two to-
the maximum slope to a value far below the angle of repose.
pographic pro¬les extracted from Figure 2.12d.
For a tall, broad scarp (b), however, the solution is sensitive
These plots are compared with Eq. (2.48) for κt
to the initial angle. The best-¬t model parameters in this case
values of 2.0 m2 and 1.3 m2 . Radiocarbon ages in-
have well-de¬ned values for both diffusion age and reduced
dicate a site abandonment age of 1.7 ka at this
initial gradient (κ = 0.78 m2 /kyr and ± ’ b = 0.48).
location. Diffusivity values for these walls, there-
fore, are 1.2 and 0.8 m2 /kyr, respectively. These
values are broadly comparable to the represen-
sensitive to the initial angle. The best-¬t model
tative value for the Basin and Range.
parameters in this case have well-de¬ned values
for both diffusion age and reduced initial gradi-
ent (κ = 0.78 m2 /kyr and ± ’ b = 0.48). Physically, 2.2.9 Radionuclide dispersion in soils
¬tting the full scarp works best because the scarp Thus far we have only considered applications
pro¬le contains independent information about of the diffusion equation to landform evolution.
the diffusion age and the initial gradient. The dif- Many applications of the diffusion equation are
fusion age is determined primarily by the width applicable in other aspects of surface processes,

(a) 1 (b)

= 1.0
= 0.3
kt/x02 = 0.01
= 0.03
degraded walls
= 0.1
’3 ’2 ’1 0 1 2 3
(d) 5cm contours
kt = 1.3 m2
kt = 2.0 m2


2 4
0 8
x (m)
and 95%, suggesting that very little 137 Cs has dif-
Fig 2.12 Diffusion modeling of the stone-wall degradation
fused below 6 cm in these pro¬les. The radionu-
in western Tibet. (a) Solutions to the diffusion equation with
an initially vertical structure. (b) Oblique view of degraded clide pro¬le shape may re¬‚ect the in¬‚uence of
walls in Tibet. (c) Plots of topographic pro¬les perpendicular both surface erosion/deposition and redistribu-
to the wall, with best-¬t solutions corresponding to tion within the soil column. However, in the case
κt = 2.0 m2 and 1.3 m2 . (d) Contour map of a
of Fortymile Wash it is reasonable to assume that
microtopographic survey of degraded walls in western Tibet
surface erosion and deposition were negligible
(near Kyunglung), with pro¬le locations noted.
during the past 50 yr. Except for the active chan-
nel, all of the older surfaces have not experienced
however. Here we consider the migration of signi¬cant ¬‚ooding for several thousand years.
radionuclides into the subsurface within a soil Eolian deposition rates inferred for the Fortymile
pro¬le. Wash fan by Reheis et al. (1995) also suggest that
Beginning in the mid-1950s and continuing eolian erosion/deposition is less than or equal to
through the mid-1960s, above-ground nuclear several millimeters over the 50-yr time scale since
tests introduced radioactive fallout 137 Cs into the the introduction of fallout 137 Cs. Due to the rela-
soil (He and Walling, 1997). Fourteen 137 Cs pro- tive stability of the Fortymile Wash fan surfaces
¬les from the mapped area of Fortymile Wash fan to both ¬‚uvial and eolian erosion/deposition, we
expect the shape of the 137 Cs pro¬le to predom-
were collected and analyzed (Table 2.1) in order to
determine the rate of Cs migration into the soil inantly re¬‚ect redistribution processes. The ex-
over the past 50 years. The Fortymile Wash fan is ception is the active channel. In this case the Cs
of particular interest because it is the depozone pro¬le may be strongly in¬‚uenced by ¬‚uvial mix-
for sediment eroded from the Nevada Test Site. ing in addition to in¬ltration and other mixing
Bulk samples were collected at 0--3 cm, 3--6 cm, processes.
and 6--9 cm. The fraction of total 137 Cs in the up- The equation describing the evolution of ra-
per half of the pro¬le typically varied between 80 dionuclide concentration C by diffusive processes

«C(z,t)/(C0 dw )
C(z,t)/(C0 dw )
0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
0 0.6

t = 30 5
t = 20
z (cm) sandyD = 6.1D = 5.1
t = 10 yr
z (cm) loam,
calc. sandy loam, D = 3.5
10 clayey loam, D = 2.0


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