Short communication: Increasing vertical attenuation length of cosmogenic nuclide production on steep slopes negates topographic shielding corrections for catchment erosion rates

DiBiase, Roman A.

Interpreting catchment-mean erosion rates from in situ produced cosmogenic inline-formula10Be concentrations in stream sediments requires calculating the catchment-mean inline-formula10Be surface production rate and effective mass attenuation length, both of which can vary locally due to topographic shielding and slope effects. The most common method for calculating topographic shielding accounts only for the reduction of nuclide production rates due to shielding at the surface, leading to catchment-mean corrections of up to 20 % in steep landscapes, and makes the simplifying assumption that the effective mass attenuation length for a given nuclide production mechanism is spatially uniform. Here I evaluate the validity of this assumption using a simplified catchment geometry with mean slopes ranging from 0 to 80inline-formula to calculate the spatial variation in surface skyline shielding, effective mass attenuation length, and the total effective shielding factor, defined as the ratio of the shielded surface nuclide concentration to that of an unshielded horizontal surface. For flat catchments (i.e., uniform elevation of bounding ridgelines), the effect of increasing vertical attenuation length as a function of hillslope angle and skyline shielding exactly offsets the effect of decreasing surface production rate, indicating that no topographic shielding correction is needed when calculating catchment-mean vertical erosion rates. For dipping catchments (as characterized by a plane fit to the bounding ridgelines), the catchment-mean surface nuclide concentrations are also equal to that of an unshielded horizontal surface, except for cases of extremely steep range-front catchments, where the surface nuclide concentrations are counterintuitively higher than the unshielded case due to added production from oblique cosmic ray paths at depth. These results indicate that in most cases topographic shielding corrections are inappropriate for calculating catchment-mean erosion rates, and are only needed for steep catchments with nonuniform distributions of quartz and/or erosion rate. By only accounting for shielding of surface production, existing shielding approaches introduce a slope-dependent systematic error that could lead to spurious interpretations of relationships between topography and erosion rate.

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DiBiase, Roman A.: Short communication: Increasing vertical attenuation length of cosmogenic nuclide production on steep slopes negates topographic shielding corrections for catchment erosion rates. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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