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Holocene and Anthropocene Landscape Change: Arroyo Formation on Santa Cruz Island, California

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In this study, we untangle the relative importance of climatic, tectonic, and anthropogenic drivers as triggers of arroyo formation and geomorphic change for a small watershed on Santa Cruz Island, California. Within the Pozo watershed (6.47 km2), historic arroyo incision occurred contemporaneously with arroyo incision across many of the world's dryland regions. Unlike many of these other sites, Pozo contains a datable record that allows quantification of sedimentation rates from the mid-to-late Holocene to the twentieth century. Basin-wide environmental changes were assessed using a combination of cosmogenic radionuclide inventories, midden and marine-shell deposits, relict soil properties, airborne and ground-based light detection and ranging (lidar) data, ranching artifacts, and historic records. Shortly after the introduction of sheep in 1853, localized sedimentation rates on the Pozo floodplain increased by two orders of magnitude from 0.4 mm/year to ∼25 mm/year. Accelerated sedimentation was followed by arroyo formation ca. 1878 and rapid expansion of the incipient gully network, the lateral extent of which has been largely maintained since 1929. Catchment-mean erosion rates from cosmogenic radionuclide measurements indicate that presettlement rates were less than 0.08 mm/year, whereas lidar-derived measurements of historic gully erosion produce estimates almost thirty times higher (∼2.2 mm/year). Topographic measurements since 2005 indicate that the active channel of the Pozo watershed is aggrading. We argue that accelerated sedimentation due to overgrazing, and an unusually large 1878 rainstorm event, set the stage for arroyo formation in the Pozo watershed between 1875 and 1886. We hypothesize that even in the absence of modern human disturbance, downcutting would have occurred due to intrinsic hillslope stability thresholds.
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Keywords: (); LIDAR; cosmogenic radionuclides; gully incision; incisión de cárcavas; lidar; overgrazing; radionúclidos cosmogénicos; sobrepastoreo

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography and Earth Science,University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, 2: Department of Geography,University of California at Santa Barbara, 3: Department of Geography,Middlebury College,

Publication date: 2012-11-01

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