Geomorphic and Sedimentary Effects of Modern Climate Change: Current and Anticipated Future Conditions in the Western United States

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Abstract

Hydroclimatic changes associated with global warming over the past 50 years have been documented widely, but physical landscape responses are poorly understood thus far. Detecting sedimentary and geomorphic signals of modern climate change presents challenges owing to short record lengths, difficulty resolving signals in stochastic natural systems, influences of land use and tectonic activity, long-lasting effects of individual extreme events, and variable connectivity in sediment-routing systems. We review existing literature to investigate the nature and extent of sedimentary and geomorphic responses to modern climate change, focusing on the western United States, a region with generally high relief and high sediment yield likely to be sensitive to climatic forcing. Based on fundamental geomorphic theory and empirical evidence from other regions, we anticipate climate-driven changes to slope stability, watershed sediment yields, fluvial morphology, and aeolian sediment mobilization in the western United States. We find evidence for recent climate-driven changes to slope stability and increased aeolian dune and dust activity, whereas changes in sediment yields and fluvial morphology have been linked more commonly to nonclimatic drivers thus far. Detecting effects of climate change will require better understanding how landscape response scales with disturbance, how lag times and hysteresis operate within sedimentary systems, and how to distinguish the relative influence and feedbacks of superimposed disturbances. The ability to constrain geomorphic and sedimentary response to rapidly progressing climate change has widespread implications for human health and safety, infrastructure, water security, economics, and ecosystem resilience.

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East, A. E., & Sankey, J. B. (2020, December 1). Geomorphic and Sedimentary Effects of Modern Climate Change: Current and Anticipated Future Conditions in the Western United States. Reviews of Geophysics. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019RG000692

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