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Durham University

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Alexander Densmore

West, A. J., Hetzel, R., Li, G., Jin, Z., Zhang, F., Hilton, R. G. & Densmore, A. L. Dilution of 10Be in detrital quartz by earthquake-induced landslides: Implications for determining denudation rates and potential to provide insights into landslide sediment dynamics. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 2014;396:143-153.

Author(s) from Durham


The concentration of 10Be in detrital quartz (10Beqtz) from river sediments is now widely used to quantify catchment-wide denudation rates but may also be sensitive to inputs from bedrock landslides that deliver sediment with low 10Beqtz. Major landslide-triggering events can provide large amounts of low-concentration material to rivers in mountain catchments, but changes in river sediment 10Beqtz due to such events have not yet been measured directly. Here we examine the impact of widespread landslides triggered by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake on 10Beqtz in sediment samples from the Min Jiang river basin, in Sichuan, China. Landslide deposit material associated with the Wenchuan earthquake has consistently lower 10Beqtz than in river sediment prior to the earthquake. River sediment 10Beqtz decreased significantly following the earthquake downstream of areas of high coseismic landslide occurrence (i.e., with greater than ∼0.3% of the upstream catchment area affected by landslides), because of input of the 10Be-depleted landslide material, but showed no systematic changes where landslide occurrence was low. Changes in river sediment 10Beqtz concentration were largest in small first-order catchments but were still significant in large river basins with areas of 104–105 km2104–105 km2. Spatial and temporal variability in river sediment 10Beqtz has important implications for inferring representative denudation rates in tectonically active, landslide-dominated environments, even in large basins. Although the dilution of 10Beqtz in river sediment by landslide inputs may complicate interpretation of denudation rates, it also may provide a possible opportunity to track the transport of landslide sediment. The associated uncertainties are large, but in the Wenchuan case, calculations based on 10Be mixing proportions suggest that river sediment fluxes in the 2–3 years following the earthquake increased by a similar order of magnitude in the 0.25–1 mm and the <0.25 mm size fractions, as determined from 10Beqtz mixing calculations and hydrological gauging, respectively. Such information could provide new insight into sediment transfer, with implications for secondary sediment-related hazards and for understanding the removal of mass from mountains.