Fire-induced rock spalling as a mechanism of weathering responsible for flared slope and inselberg development

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Nature Communications


Inselbergs, such as Uluru in central Australia, are iconic landscape features of semi-arid and deeply denuded continental interiors. These islands of rock are commonly skirted by steep, overhanging cliffs (flared slopes) at ground level. The weathering processes responsible for formation of flared slopes and steep-sided inselbergs in flat, planated landscapes are enigmatic. One model emphasizes sub-surface weathering followed by denudation and excavation of saprolite to expose the unweathered bedrock while other models advocate slope development under subaerial conditions at ground level. We present a new hypothesis that identifies wildfire as a primary agent of flared slope development via fire-induced rock spalling around the periphery of inselbergs. Widespread fire-spalling following the 2019–2020 Australian fires illustrates that this is a common form of physical weathering in fire-prone environments but its effects are particularly evident in semi-arid regions where lateral fire-spalling dominates over fluvial and chemical weathering to create flared slopes and steep-sided inselbergs.

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