Controls on sediment residence times in an Alpine river catchment inferred from uranium isotopes

Publication Name

Earth and Planetary Science Letters


Quantifying the timescale of sedimentary processes in river basins, such as erosion, transport and deposition, and their relationships with geomorphic parameters is important in the context of ongoing climate change. In this study, we combine uranium activity ratios (234U/238U) for fine-grained (<63 μm) fluvial sediments from the Var River basin (Southern French Alps) and inferred sediment residence times, to catchment-scale spatial analysis of geomorphic parameters with the aim to investigate the factors that influence the timescale of hillslope storage and alluvial transport. Our results show that the U isotope composition of sediments and inferred sediment residence time are mostly controlled by geomorphic parameters such as catchment elevation, slope and curvature, rather than catchment lithology. We show that sediment residence times are shorter in steep, high elevation terranes, but markedly increase wherever catchment-averaged slopes <30°, reflecting the transition from bedrock-dominated to soil-covered landscapes. Independent estimates of sediment residence times using spatial data for soil thickness and 10Be-derived denudation rates show good agreement with those calculated from U isotopes. This observation validates the suitability of U isotopes to quantify sediment residence times in river catchments and for investigating how geomorphic processes control the duration of hillslope storage and fluvial transport. Furthermore, these results show that the application of U isotopes to sedimentary deposits provides robust information on the relationship between climate variability and catchment erosion, allowing us to assess the role of intrinsic vs extrinsic controls on sediment routing at the millennial timescale.

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access



Article Number


Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

University of Wollongong



Link to publisher version (DOI)