Lithologic Control on the Form of Amphitheater-headed Channels and the Influence of Seepage Erosion vs. Downstream Incision on Rates of Waterfall Retreat

I. Haviv, Y. Enzel, K. X. Whipple, E. Zilberman, A. Matmon, J. Stone, K. Fifield

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstract


The use of amphitheater-headed channels as indicators for groundwater sapping on Earth and Mars was recently challenged by Lamb et al., (2006, 2007) who demonstrated that this form-process relation is not unique. A field study of 27 channels with amphitheater-headed valleys along the Dead Sea western tectonic escarpment identified seepage indications only at 7 channels and seepage-related sapping at 2 of these 7 channels. These findings support the idea that amphitheater-headed valleys can form across waterfalls regardless of seepage erosion. Major controls on the amphitheater morphology of the studied channels include waterfall height and especially the height of the waterfall erodible subcaprock face ( Hscap), which dictates the length of talus slopes along the canyon walls adjacent to the waterfall. The characteristic width of the amphitheater can be approximated by: 2 Hscap/tanα + dpp where α is the talus angle of repose and ( dpp) is the plunge pool diameter. Amphitheatre morphology is less pronounced and valley plan form is V- shaped across waterfalls with low Hscap. Utilizing the downstream rate of change in valley width ( dw/dx) we define a V-plan form as a condition where dw/dx is uniform and a U-plan form where dw/dx decreases downstream. We demonstrate that dw/dx is a positive function of channel gradient ( dz/dx) and argue that rapid downstream decrease in channel gradient can contribute to a U-plan form. Commonly found debris-induced oversteepened reaches below waterfalls are therefore another possible trigger to amphitheater morphology. Waterfalls within two of the escarpment stretches we have studied have quasi uniform subcaprock face height (i.e., similar toe stratigraphic position) independent of drainage area and retreat distance from the escarpment outlet. This indicates that their retreat rate and the rate of downstream incision are tightly interdependent. Retreat rates of these waterfalls are probably set by base level lowering and incision wave velocity at a downstream transition to a resistant formation. This velocity influences the efficiency of coarse debris evacuation (transportation and weathering) through its effect on the length and the gradients of the reach between the resistant formation and the waterfall. Under such conditions a theoretical onset of seepage along the contact marked by the upper end of the subcaprock talus slope at the waterfall face will not affect retreat rates assuming coverage of this contact by talus debris can suppress seepage-induced erosion. We demonstrate, however, that there are plausible theoretical cases where Hscap can vary over time and seepage can influence waterfall retreat rates for Myrs. We also show that groundwater sapping observed in two of the waterfalls we have studied probably still effects their retreat rate.
Original languageEnglish GB
JournalGeophysical Research Abstracts
StatePublished - 2007


  • 1815 Erosion
  • 1824 Geomorphology: general (1625)
  • 1825 Geomorphology: fluvial (1625)
  • 1829 Groundwater hydrology
  • 6225 Mars


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