Steering of experimental channels by lateral basin tilting

Wonsuck Kim, Ben A. Sheets, Chris Paola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


A major issue in tectonics and sedimentation is the role of cross-stream tectonic tilting in steering channels. The general idea is that channels will be attracted to lateral maxima in subsidence rate. A physical experiment performed in 1999 at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, however, was in conflict with the idea and showed that fluvial channels and resulting stratigraphy can be insensitive to even relatively strong lateral variation in subsidence. Here, we present results from an experiment which uses a simplified relay-ramp geometry with laterally variable uplift and subsidence to test a hypothesis developed from the earlier experiment: Tectonic tilting steers channels only when the ratio of the time scales describing lateral channel mobility to tectonic deformation is sufficiently large. Occupation time by experimental channels and sand fraction in the deposit (a proxy for channel deposition) both increase with subsidence rate indicating strong steering of channels by tectonic forcing. We also found that, due to local incision, uplift lengthened the time scale for lateral channel migration relative to subsidence. Comparing channel mobility at the beginning of the experiment, with no tectonic forcing, to later tectonic stages of the experiment indicates that active tectonics increased the channel time scale. The interplay of channel steering with uplift and subsidence led to cyclic appearance and disappearance of an autogenic lake in the hanging-wall basin. This lake was associated with alternation between channels going around vs. across the adjoining upstream uplifted footwall region. This creation and filling of the lake under constant tectonic forcing (constant fault slip rate) in the hanging wall created subaerial fan-delta parasequences separated by fluvial deposits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-301
Number of pages16
JournalBasin Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Jun

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology


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