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Durham University

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Alexander Densmore

Wang, J., Howarth, J.D., McClymont, E.L., Densmore, A.L., Fitzsimons, S.J., Croissant, T., Groecke, D.R., West, M.D., Harvey, E., Frith, N.V., Garnett, M.H. & Hilton, R.G. Long-term patterns of hillslope erosion by earthquake-induced landslides shape mountain landscapes. Science Advances. 2020;6:eaaz6446.

Author(s) from Durham


Widespread triggering of landslides by large storms or earthquakes is a dominant mechanism of erosion in mountain landscapes. If landslides occur repeatedly in particular locations within a mountain range, then they will dominate the landscape evolution of that section and could leave a fingerprint in the topography. Here, we track erosion provenance using a novel combination of the isotopic and molecular composition of organic matter deposited in Lake Paringa, New Zealand. We find that the erosion provenance has shifted markedly after four large earthquakes over 1000 years. Postseismic periods eroded organic matter from a median elevation of 722 +329/−293 m and supplied 43% of the sediment in the core, while interseismic periods sourced from lower elevations (459 +256/−226 m). These results are the first demonstration that repeated large earthquakes can consistently focus erosion at high elevations, while interseismic periods appear less effective at modifying the highest parts of the topography.