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Journal Articles Earth Surface Dynamics Year : 2022

Autogenic knickpoints in laboratory landscape experiments

Stéphane Bonnet
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Anne Guyez
Philippe Davy


The upstream propagation of knickpoints in river longitudinal profiles is commonly assumed to be related to discrete changes in tectonics, climate or base level. However, the recognition that some knickpoints may form autogenically, independent of any external perturbation, may challenge these assumptions. We investigate here the genesis and dynamics of such autogenic knickpoints in laboratory experiments at the drainage basin scale, where landscapes evolved in response to constant rates of base level fall and precipitation. Despite these constant forcings, we observe that knickpoints regularly initiate in rivers at the catchments' outlet throughout the duration of experiments. The upstream knickpoint propagation rate does not decrease monotonically in relationship with the decrease in drainage area, as predicted by stream-power-based models, instead the propagation rate first increases until the mid-part of catchments before decreasing. To investigate the dynamics of the knickpoints, we calculated hydraulic information (water depth, river width, discharge and shear stress) using a hydrodynamic model. We show that knickpoint initiation at the outlet coincides with a fairly abrupt river narrowing entailing an increase in their shear stress. Then, once knickpoints have propagated upward, rivers widen causing a decrease in shear stress and incision rate, and making the river incision less than the base level fall rate. This creates an unstable situation which drives the formation of a new knickpoint. The experiments suggest a new autocyclic model of knickpoint generation controlled by river width dynamics independent of variations in climate or tectonics. This questions an interpretation of landscape records focusing only on climate and tectonic changes without considering autogenic processes.


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insu-03625741 , version 1 (31-03-2022)



Léopold de Lavaissière, Stéphane Bonnet, Anne Guyez, Philippe Davy. Autogenic knickpoints in laboratory landscape experiments. Earth Surface Dynamics, 2022, 10 (2), pp.229-246. ⟨10.5194/esurf-10-229-2022⟩. ⟨insu-03625741⟩
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