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Erosional processes, topographic length-scales and geomorphic evolution in arid climatic environments: the ‘Lluta collapse’, northern Chile


The ‘Lluta collapse’ of northern Chile is one of the oldest recognizable landslides (>2.5 Ma) in a hyperarid continental setting. This paper develops a conceptual landscape evolution model of the ‘Lluta collapse’ and analyzes the controls of mass wasting and erosion/sediment transport in channels on the topographic development. The data presented here imply that high relief along a topographic scarp, surface fracturing, elevated groundwater table during a more humid climate and an aquitard underlying permeable ignimbrites are preparatory causal factors for landsliding >2.5 Ma ago. A strong seismic event then possibly resulted in the displacement of ca. 26 km3 of mass. Subsequent modification of the landslide scar occurred by backward erosion, resulting in the establishment of a dendritic drainage network and the removal of an additional ca. 24 km3 of material. It appears that this mass was produced by mass wasting in the headwaters, and exported by high-concentrated debris flows in channels. In addition, morphometric information suggest that whereas the geometrical development of the ‘Lluta collapse’ has been controlled by gravitational mass wasting, the rates of the development of this geomorphic unit have been limited by the export rates of mass and hence by the transport capacity of the flows.

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Financial support for accomplishment of this study came from the Swiss Academy of Science (SANW), the ETH Barth Fond and the Swiss National Science Foundation (credit No. 620-57863). We greatly appreciate the useful discussions and constructive reviews by F. Kober, G. Zeilinger, D. Burbank, H. von Eynatten and R. Gaupp. Special thanks goes to T. Bührer (Institute of Photogrammetry and Remote sensing at ETH Zurich) who helped the senior author during DEM generation, and to R. von Rotz for field support. This paper further benefitted from very supportive discussions with K. Thuro, A. Densmore, G. Simpson and R. Salas.

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Correspondence to Michael Strasser or Fritz Schlunegger.

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Strasser, M., Schlunegger, F. Erosional processes, topographic length-scales and geomorphic evolution in arid climatic environments: the ‘Lluta collapse’, northern Chile. Int J Earth Sci (Geol Rundsch) 94, 433–446 (2005).

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  • Landscape morphology
  • Mass wasting
  • Debris flows
  • Morphometry
  • Central Andes