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Aridity is expressed in river topography globally

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-577
Number of pages18
JournalNature
Volume573
Early online date16 Sep 2019
DOIs
DateAccepted/In press - 3 Jul 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 16 Sep 2019
DatePublished (current) - 26 Sep 2019

Abstract

It has long been suggested that climate shapes land surface topography through interactions between rainfall, runoff and erosion in drainage basins1–4. The longitudinal profile of a river (elevation versus distance downstream) is a key morphological attribute that reflects the history of drainage basin evolution, so its form should be diagnostic of the regional expression of climate and its interaction with the land surface5–9. However, both detecting climatic signatures in longitudinal profiles and deciphering the climatic mechanisms of their development have been challenging, owing to the lack of relevant global data and to the variable effects of tectonics, lithology, land surface properties and human activities10,11. Here we present a global dataset of 333,502 river longitudinal profiles, and use it to explore differences in overall profile shape (concavity) across climate zones. We show that river profiles are systematically straighter with increasing aridity. Through simple numerical modelling, we demonstrate that these global patterns in longitudinal profile shape can be explained by hydrological controls that reflect rainfall–runoff regimes in different climate zones. The most important of these is the downstream rate of change in streamflow, independent of the area of the drainage basin. Our results illustrate that river topography expresses a signature of aridity, suggesting that climate is a first-order control on the evolution of the drainage basin.

    Research areas

  • geomorphology, hydrology

Documents

Documents

  • Full-text PDF (accepted author manuscript)

    Rights statement: This is the accepted author manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Springer Nature at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1558-8#article-info . Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 5.32 MB, PDF document

    Licence: Other

DOI

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