10th International Conference on Geomorphology
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Landscape evolution related to drainage reversals toward escarpments: Insights from the southeastern Negev Desert, Israel 

Liran Goren1, Elhanan Harel1, Eitan Shelef2, Onn Crouvi3, and Hanan Ginat4
Liran Goren et al.
  • 1Earth and environmental Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel
  • 2Geology and Environmental Science, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
  • 3Geological Survey of Israel, Jerusalem, Israel
  • 4The Dead-Sea and Arava Science Center, Tamar regional council, Israel

Drainage reversals occur when a channel reverses its flow direction by 180o while exploiting its antecedent valley. This reorganization mode can critically impact landscapes' hydrologic and geomorphic functionality, but the processes inducing reversals and the related landscape dynamics have not been studied in detail. Reversals are commonly attributed to tectonic tilting. However, in many cases, independent evidence for tilting is missing. Furthermore, when reversals occur toward great escarpments, as was documented in many terrains around the globe, isostatic tilting is expected to occur away and not toward the escarpments.

The current study explores a natural laboratory for drainage reversals in the southeastern Negev Desert, Israel. We identified in this field area tens of highland channels that reversed their flow direction eastward and toward the Arava Valley Escarpment.

Reversals are established by observations of (1) barbed tributaries that join the main trunk with junction angles > 90o and preserve the antecedent pre-reversal drainage topology; (2) a valley confined drainage divide (windgap) that separates the reversed channel from the antecedent, beheaded channel; and (3) series of terraces that grade west, toward the windgap and opposite to the active flow direction.

Based on field observations and morphometric analysis, we propose a new, tilting-independent, mechanism for inducing flow reversals. According to this mechanism, reversal is linked to localized windgap migration within the antecedent channel and away from the escarpment. Migration is driven by slope imbalance across the windgap with steeper slopes at the escarpment side, and by erodibility differences between the hard rocky interfluves and the more erodible valley fill.

Using a new algorithm for quantifying valley width, we find that the scaling between drainage area (A) and width (W) differs between reversed, beheaded, and non-reorganized valleys. In addition to providing markers for reorganization, the unique A-W scaling leads to feedback that promotes further windgap migration and generates longer reversals.

The oppositely grading terraces that accompany some reversed channels present an outstanding opportunity for quantifying the dynamic and rate of windgap migration. We hypothesize that the abandonment age of each terrace reflects the timing at which the paleo-windgap migrated past the location of the terrace, promoting the incision of the reversed channel that generated the terrace. Accordingly, the abandonment ages of the terraces can inform us about the timing and dynamics of windgap migration.

Absolute ages of terrace abandonment were constrained by luminescence dating, with complementary relative ages inferred from chronosequence of reg soils, which develop on abandoned terraces in hyper-arid environments. In agreement with the reversal model, we found that the degree of soil development and the abandonment ages of terraces increase with distance from the windgap eastwards. The average windgap migration rate has been ~1 mm/yr since 200 Kyr, an order of magnitude greater than the vertical incision rate of the reversed channel. The age-distance relations of the terraces indicate episodic windgap migration with a recent stalling. A similar age for other dated windages in the region hints at a regional, possibly climatic control on windgap migration.  

How to cite: Goren, L., Harel, E., Shelef, E., Crouvi, O., and Ginat, H.: Landscape evolution related to drainage reversals toward escarpments: Insights from the southeastern Negev Desert, Israel , 10th International Conference on Geomorphology, Coimbra, Portugal, 12–16 Sep 2022, ICG2022-266, https://doi.org/10.5194/icg2022-266, 2022.