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Andes fieldwork

Dr Rebekah Harries, a research associate at the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience (IHRR), has published an article in Geomorphology that investigates how persistent climate patterns impact mountain river morphology and explores the implications for how sensitively different rivers may respond to future climatic change.

Geomorphic change in mountain valleys impacts those communities living within these dynamic environments. Typically, we expect hillslope erosion to be greater where topography is steeper and where landscapes are more tectonically active. This is not the case in the Andes, making future landslide and flood hazards, and the exposure of mountain communities to these hazards, even more difficult to forecast.

In this paper, Dr. Rebekah Harries (IHRR, Durham University), Dr. Felipe Aaron (Catholic University of Chile), and Dr. Linda Kirstein (University of Edinburgh) explore what is controlling the geomorphic evolution of river valleys across the central Chilean and Argentine Andes. They find that persistent climate aridity in the Argentine Andes has resulted in vast amounts of sediment being stored within its river valleys, which has slowed down their morphological response to mountain uplift. In contrast, the wetter Chilean Andes have evolved more rapidly and are actively exporting sediment downstream. With this characterisation, they could assess the background direction and rate of change in these mountain catchments and explore how and where river and landslide hazards may respond sensitively to future climatic change in these different settings. Future work is needed to build on this conceptual model and better assess the vulnerability of both mountain communities and downstream communities whose lives and livelihoods are impacted by sediment delivery and dynamic channel change.

Harries, Rebekah M., Felipe Aron, and Linda A. Kirstein. "Climate aridity delays morphological response of Andean river valleys to tectonic uplift." Geomorphology (2023): 108804.

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