Relationships between landscape morphology, climate and surface erosion in northern Peru at 5°S latitude

Mettier, R. ; Schlunegger, F. ; Schneider, H. ; Rieke-Zapp, D. ; Schwab, M.

In: International Journal of Earth Sciences, 2009, vol. 98, no. 8, p. 2009-2022

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    The northern segment of the Peruvian Andes is affected by a twofold climate with measurable implications on landscapes and landscape dynamics. During ‘normal' or ‘neutral' years easterly winds bring rain from the Atlantic and the Amazon Basin to the Sierras, which results in a seasonal climate with rather low-intensity precipitations. In contrast, during the large-scale warm phase of the ENSO cycle, El Niños transfer moisture from the Pacific to the Peruvian coast by westerly winds and result in high-intensity precipitation. We investigate the effects of this twofold climate for the case of the Piura drainage basin at ca. 5°S latitude (northern Peru). In the headwaters that have been under the influence of the easterlies, the landscape is mantled by a thick regolith cover and dissected by a network of debris flow channels that are mostly covered by a thick layer of unconsolidated sediment. This implies that in the headwaters of the Piura River sediment discharge has been limited by the transport capacity of the sediment transfer system. In the lower segment that has been affected by high-intensity rainfall in relation to the westerlies (El Niños), the hillslopes are dissected by debris flow channels that expose the bedrock on the channel floor, implying a supply-limited sediment discharge. Interestingly, measurements at the Piura gauging station near the coast reveal that, during the last decades, sediment was transferred to the lower reaches only in response to the 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 El Niño periods. For the latter period, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) intensity images show that the locations of substantial erosion are mainly located in areas that were affected by higher-than-average precipitation rates. Most important, these locations are coupled with the network of debris flow channels. This implies that the seasonal easterlies are responsible for the production of sediment through weathering in the headwaters, and the highly episodic El Niños result in export of sediment through channelized sediment transport down to the coastal segment. Both systems overlap showing a partially coupled sediment production-delivery system