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Controls on the erosion of the continental margin of southeast Brazil from cosmogenic 10Be in river sediments

de Souza, Daniel H., Stuart, Finlay M., Rodés, Ángel, Pupim, Fabiano N., Hackspacher, Peter C.
Geomorphology 2019 v.330 pp. 163-176
altitude, climatic factors, coasts, landslides, mountains, quartz, rivers, sediments, soil, tectonics, topographic slope, watersheds, Atlantic Ocean, Brazil
The Atlantic Ocean coast region of southeast Brazil contains two coast-parallel mountain ranges (the Serra do Mar and Serra da Mantiqueira) generated by tectonic activity pulses tens of millions years after the main continental rift event occurred around 120 Ma. Although the short-term erosion rates for the region are established, the relative importance of the factors controlling erosion is poorly constrained. We combine new and published catchment-averaged erosion rates (n = 48) using in situ-produced 10Be concentrations in quartz from river sediments to establish the regional erosion pattern. The river catchments are (i) escarpment topography, (ii) high-altitude low-relief and (iii) mixed topography, which record how escarpment fronts are migrating inland. Ocean-facing coastal escarpment catchments of the Serra do Mar (ε = 18–53 m/Ma) can be eroded approximately twice as fast as continent-facing escarpment catchments in the Serra do Mar and Serra da Mantiqueira (ε = 7–24 m/Ma). The correlation between the normalized channel steepness index (ksn) and slope angle indicates that river incision and hillslope erosion processes combine to maintain the high relief. The Serra do Mar catchments define a mean slope angle threshold indicating that landslides are the dominant erosional process when slope angles in excess of ~30°. Tectonic activity is low and plays no significant role in driving erosion. A first-order relationship between erosion rate and precipitation-temperature across the region implies that climate plays a key role in soil production, river incision and in triggering erosional processes. Although the high topographic relief is a pre-condition for the occurrence of significant erosion, the climatic condition is the outlining factor of the regional variation in erosion rates.