Japan's sediment flux to the Pacific Ocean revisited
Quantifying volumes and rates of delivery of terrestrial sediment from island arcs to subduction zones is indispensable for refining estimates of the thickness of trench fills that may eventually control the location and timing of submarine landslides and tsunami-generating mega-earthquakes. Despite these motivating insights, knowledge about the rates of erosion and sediment export from the Japanese islands to their Pacific subduction zones remains patchy regardless of the increasing availability of highly resolved data on surface deformation, climate, geology, and topography. Traditionally, natural erosion rates across the island arc have been estimated from regression of topographic catchment metrics and reservoir sedimentation rates that were recorded over several years to decades. We review current research in this context, correct for a systematic bias in one of the most widely used predictions, and present new estimates of decadal to millennial-scale erosion rates of Japan's terrestrial inner forearc. We draw on several independent and unprecedented inventories of mass wasting, reservoir sedimentation, and concentrations of cosmogenic 10Be in river sands. We find that natural 10Be-derived denudation rates of several mm yr− 1 in the Japanese Alps have been sustained over several centuries to millennia, and are, within error, roughly consistent with sediment yields inferred from artificial reservoir sedimentation. Local exceptions may likely result from release of sediment storage or regional landsliding episodes that trigger transient sediment pulses. Our synopsis further reveals that catchments draining Japan's eastern seaboard differ distinctly in their tectonic, lithological, topographic, and climatic characteristics between the Tohoku, Japanese Alps, and Nankai inner forearc segments, which is underscored by a marked asymmetric pattern of erosion rates along the island arc. Erosion rates are highest (up to at least 3 mm yr− 1) in the Japanese Alps that mark the collision of two subduction zones, where high topographic relief, hillslope and bedrock-channel steepness foster rapid denudation by mass wasting. Comparable, if slightly lower, erosion rates characterise the Nankai inner forearc in southwest Japan, most likely due to higher typhoon-driven rainfall totals and variability rather than its high topographic relief. In contrast, our estimated erosion and flux rates are lowest in the Tohoku inner forearc catchments that feed sediment into the Japan Trench. We conclude that collisional mountain building of the Japanese Alps drives some of the highest erosion rates in the island arc despite similar uplift and precipitation controls in southwest Japan. We infer that, prior to extensive river damming, reservoir construction, and coastal works, the gross of Japan's total sediment export to the Pacific Ocean entered the accretionary margin of the Nankai Trough as opposed to the comparatively sediment-starved Japan Trench. Compared to documented contemporary rates of sediment flux from mountainous catchments elsewhere in the Pacific, the rivers draining Japan's inner forearc take an intermediate position despite high relief, steep slopes, very high seismicity, and frequent rainstorms. However, the average rates of millennial-scale denudation in the Japanese Alps particularly are amongst the highest reported worldwide. Local mismatches between these late Holocene and modern rates emphasise the anthropogenic fingerprint on sediment retention that may have significantly reduced the island arc's mass flux to its subduction zones, as is the case elsewhere in east and southeast Asia.