Landscape development in an hyperarid sandstone environment along the margins of the Dead Sea fault: Implications from dated rock falls

A. Matmon*, Y. Shaked, N. Porat, Y. Enzel, R. Finkel, N. Lifton, E. Boaretto, A. Agnon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


In this study, we explored the spatial and temporal relations between boulders and their original in-situ locations on sandstone bedrock cliffs. This was accomplished by combining field observations with dating methods using cosmogenic isotopes (10Be and 14C) and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). Our conclusions bear both on the landscape evolution and cliff retreat process in the hyperarid region of Timna and on the methodology of estimating exposure ages using cosmogenic isotopes. We recognize three discrete rock fall events, at 31 ka, 15 ka, and 4 ka. In this hyperarid region, the most plausible triggering mechanism for rock fall events is strong ground acceleration caused by earthquakes generated by the nearby Dead Sea fault (DSF). Our record, however, under represents the regional earthquake record implying that ongoing development of detachment cracks prior to the triggering event might be slower than the earthquake cycle. Cliff retreat rates calculated using the timing of rock fall events and estimated thickness of rock removed in each event range between 0.14 m ky-1 and 2 m ky-1. When only full cycles are considered, we derive a more realistic range of 0.4 m ky-1 to 0.7 m ky-1. These rates are an order of magnitude faster than the calculated rate of surface lowering in the area. We conclude that sandstone cliffs at Timna retreat through episodic rock fall events that preserve the sharp, imposing, landscape characteristic to this region and that ongoing weathering of the cliff faces is minor. A 10%-20% difference in the 10Be concentrations in samples from matching boulder and cliff faces that have identical exposure histories and are located only a few meters apart indicates that cosmogenic nuclide production rates are sensitive to shielding and vary spatially over short distances. However, uncertainties associated with age calculations yielded boulder and matching cliff face ages that are similar within 1 σ. The use of external constraints in the form of field relations and OSL dating helped to establish each pair's age. The agreement between calculated 14C and 10Be ages indicates that the accumulation of 10Be at depth by the capture of slow deep-penetrating muons was properly accounted for in the study.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)803-817
Number of pages15
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 15 Dec 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank: Paul Bierman, Jennifer Larsen, Hannan Ginat, David Keefer, Art McGurr, Joe Andrews, and Sara Zeffran. We thank Darryl Granger, Yoav Avni and an anonymous reviewer for excellent comments. The research was partially funded by the Hebrew University grants: the Aims-Byudks and the Ring Family Foundation for atmospheric and global studies.


  • Cliff retreat
  • Cosmogenic isotopes
  • Dead Sea rift
  • Optically stimulated luminescence
  • Timna


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