The study of landscape evolution in upland environments requires analysis of complex interactions among topography, soil development, and vegetation cover under changing climatic conditions. Earth surface scientists lack a comprehensive understanding of these interactions in part due to their interdisciplinary nature, our limited ability to reconstruct the progression of landscape states through time, and the limited spatially-distributed data available for paleoclimate conditions. In this study, we investigate the interactions and feedbacks among topography, soil development, and vegetation cover in upland environments using remote sensing, geochemistry, and numerical modeling. We focus on quantifying the evolution of late Quaternary cinder cones within several volcanic fields, spanning a range of climates, as a function of age and microclimate, which varies with elevation and slope aspect. Cinder cones are excellent natural laboratories for studying the evolution of upland landscapes because they begin their evolution at a known time in the past (i.e. many cinder cones have been radiometrically dated) and because they often have unusually uniform initial conditions (i.e. they form close to the angle of repose and are comprised of well-sorted volcaniclastic parent materials). As such, cinder cones of different ages with similar size and climatic history can provide an approximate time progression illustrating how a dated hillslope has evolved over geologic time scales. Data suggest that rates of soil development and fluvial erosion are low on younger cones, which have surfaces consisting mostly of permeable cinders, but increase significantly after eolian deposits reduce the permeability of the cone surface. Further, data demonstrate that microclimatic differences between north and south facing slopes lead to systematic variations in biomass. Additionally, north-facing slopes on cinder cones are found to be steeper than corresponding south-facing slopes. The observed asymmetries in hillslope morphology are not present initially, but appear to develop over time as a result of differences in post-emplacement processes that may be attributed to aspect-induced microclimatic effects on long-term sediment transport rates. Results provide additional constraints on the timing and magnitude of feedback mechanisms among topography, biomass, and soil development as well as improve our understanding of cinder cone evolution within different climates.
McGuire L., Pelletier J.D., Rasmussen C. (2013): Coevolution of topography, soils, and vegetation in upland landscapes: Using cinder cones to elucidate ecohydrogeomorphic feedback mechanisms . Abstract EP13C-0884 presented at 2013 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 9-13 Dec..