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Title: Climate's watermark in the geometry of stream networks

Branching stream networks are a ubiquitous feature of the Earth's surface, but the processes that shape them, and their dependence on the climate in which they grow, remain poorly understood. Research has mainly focused on climatic controls of channel incision rates, while the climatic influence on planform geometry has often been overlooked. In this work, we analyze nearly one million digitally mapped river junctions throughout the contiguous United States and show that branching angles vary systematically with climatic aridity. In arid landscapes, which are thought to be dominated by surface runoff erosion, junction angles average roughly 45° in the driest places. Branching angles are systematically wider in humid regions, averaging roughly 72°, which is the theoretically predicted angle for network growth in a diffusive field such as groundwater seepage. The correlation of mean junction angle with aridity is stronger than with topographic gradient, downstream concavity, or other geometric factors that have been proposed as controls of junction angles. Thus, it may be possible to identify channelization processes from stream network geometry in relict landscapes, such as those on Mars.
Authors:
ORCiD logo [1] ; ORCiD logo [2] ; ORCiD logo [3]
  1. Massachusetts Inst. of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA (United States). Lorenz Center and Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences; ETH Zurich (Switzerland). Dept. of Environmental Systems Science
  2. Massachusetts Inst. of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA (United States). Lorenz Center and Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
  3. ETH Zurich (Switzerland). Dept. of Environmental Systems Science; Swiss Federal Inst. for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), Birmensdorf (Switzerland)
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
FG02-99ER15004
Type:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Geophysical Research Letters
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 44; Journal Issue: 5; Journal ID: ISSN 0094-8276
Publisher:
American Geophysical Union
Research Org:
Massachusetts Inst. of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Basic Energy Sciences (BES) (SC-22). Chemical Sciences, Geosciences & Biosciences Division
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; stream networks; climatic controls; aridity
OSTI Identifier:
1473898
Alternate Identifier(s):
OSTI ID: 1402167

Seybold, Hansjörg, Rothman, Daniel H., and Kirchner, James W.. Climate's watermark in the geometry of stream networks. United States: N. p., Web. doi:10.1002/2016GL072089.
Seybold, Hansjörg, Rothman, Daniel H., & Kirchner, James W.. Climate's watermark in the geometry of stream networks. United States. doi:10.1002/2016GL072089.
Seybold, Hansjörg, Rothman, Daniel H., and Kirchner, James W.. 2017. "Climate's watermark in the geometry of stream networks". United States. doi:10.1002/2016GL072089. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1473898.
@article{osti_1473898,
title = {Climate's watermark in the geometry of stream networks},
author = {Seybold, Hansjörg and Rothman, Daniel H. and Kirchner, James W.},
abstractNote = {Branching stream networks are a ubiquitous feature of the Earth's surface, but the processes that shape them, and their dependence on the climate in which they grow, remain poorly understood. Research has mainly focused on climatic controls of channel incision rates, while the climatic influence on planform geometry has often been overlooked. In this work, we analyze nearly one million digitally mapped river junctions throughout the contiguous United States and show that branching angles vary systematically with climatic aridity. In arid landscapes, which are thought to be dominated by surface runoff erosion, junction angles average roughly 45° in the driest places. Branching angles are systematically wider in humid regions, averaging roughly 72°, which is the theoretically predicted angle for network growth in a diffusive field such as groundwater seepage. The correlation of mean junction angle with aridity is stronger than with topographic gradient, downstream concavity, or other geometric factors that have been proposed as controls of junction angles. Thus, it may be possible to identify channelization processes from stream network geometry in relict landscapes, such as those on Mars.},
doi = {10.1002/2016GL072089},
journal = {Geophysical Research Letters},
number = 5,
volume = 44,
place = {United States},
year = {2017},
month = {2}
}