The erosion of glaciated mountains: evidence from hypsoclinometry
Mountain glaciation involves the erosion of cirques and troughs, which increase steep slopes but also produce gentle slopes in cirque floors and trough floors. This is expected to increase the variability of slope gradients at related altitudes. Taking a whole mountain range, its distributions of altitude and slope can be analysed to establish a signal of glacial modification. Frequency distributions of altitude (hypsometry) and gradient (clinometry) alone do not seem adequate. Taking these two variables together – hypsoclinometry, plotting slope gradient against altitude – is more promising. Frequency distributions of slope gradient at different altitudes are exemplified here for mountain ranges in British Columbia and Romania, together with altitudinal variations of steep or gentle slopes. Cirque headwalls give the clearest morphometric signature of glaciation. Steep (especially the steepest) slopes are concentrated at cirque altitudes, increasing mean, median, standard deviation (SD) and inter-quartile range (IQR) of gradients, especially above cirque floors. There is only a small increase in SD and IQR at cirque floor altitudes. Hypsometric maxima and increased proportions of gentle slopes at cirque floor altitudes are clear only in mountain ranges densely occupied by cirques. This relates to the small proportion of each cirque (about 28%) occupied by the floor. Concentrations of steep slope aspects in directions favoured by local glaciers provide further evidence of glacial modification. The most general morphometric effect of glaciation, however, is the increase in steep slopes at cirque headwall altitudes. Thus it is possible to rank mountain ranges by degree of glacial modification.