Drainage development and incision rates in an Upper Pleistocene Basalt-Limestone Boundary Channel: The Sa'ar Stream, Golan Heights, Israel

N. Shtober-Zisu, M. Inbar, D. Mor, B. R. Jicha, B. S. Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Long-term fluvial incision processes and corresponding geomorphic evolution are difficult to quantify, especially in complex systems affected by lithological and tectonic factors. Volcanic landscapes offer the most appropriate environment for the study of landscape evolution, as there is a clear starting time of formation and the lithology is homogenous. In the present study we aim to: (1) analyse the interplay of construction and incision processes throughout eruptive activity; (2) study fluvial erosion processes; (3) analyse sedimentary and volcanic lithological responses to channel erosion; and (4) calculate the incision rates in young basaltic bedrock. We have integrated existing and new 40Ar/39Ar ages of lava flows with estimates of channel geometry and tectonic activity, and considered process geomorphology concepts, to fully understand evolution of a bedrock channel incised at the boundary between basalts and sedimentary rocks with coeval active volcanic processes forcing drainage evolution. Our findings indicate that the Sa'ar basin evolution is controlled by: (1) rock strength of the mixed lithology; (2) alternating cycles of volcanic activity followed by erosion and incision; and (3) the Plio-Pleistocene uplift of Mt. Hermon. The carbonate slopes composing the southern flank of Mt. Hermon are moderate (18–26%) while the basalt slopes deriving from the Golan Heights are much steeper (26–51%). The highly erodible sedimentary rocks at Mt. Hermon's piedmont accelerated river incision, shaping a 650 m wide by 100 m deep canyon. Inside the canyon, the steep channel slope (8.6%) enables downstream movement of large boulders, including autochthonous mega-blocks (D90 size > 2.5 m); 24 knickpoints were identified using DS plots, developed within a knick zone over a distance of 6 km. The brittle and porous structure of the rubbly and blocky interflow layers (clinkers), interbedded between two massive basalt flows, enhances erosion and accelerates scouring of the plunge-pool bottom and walls. Three volcanic phases shaped the Sa'ar basin: (1) The 3.25 Ma Cover Basalt flowed over large areas of the Levant and reached up to the northern Golan; (2) Dalwe Basalt was emplaced between ~ 1.2 Ma and ~ 750 ka, from vents including Mt. Qatzaa and Mt. Odem, and extended to Mt. Hermon covering sedimentary cuestas; (3) Ein Zivan Basalt (including the Sa'ar Lava Flow – the youngest basalt flow known in Israel) erupted before ~ 110–120 ka and quickly accumulated at least three distinct flows into the deeply incised Paleo-Sa'ar canyon, refilling the canyon to a height of ~ 50 m. Rates of incision are consistent with other rivers draining the Golan Heights. The total incision rate of the Sa'ar channel during the last 760 ka is at least 19.7 cm/ka. Over the past 100 ka, the incision rate was 22–30 cm/ka and the back-erosion of the Sa'ar highest knickpoint occurred at 68 cm/ka. Our findings reflect the latest evolution history of a special, mixed lithology channel, developed at the border of a large basaltic province, in an active tectonic environment. The results suggest that fluvial adjustment of basalt-limestone rivers is determined first by the interplay of construction and incision processes throughout alternating cycles of volcanic activity and quiescence. The lithology is an extremely important factor determining the type and rate of erosion. While the tectonic factor might determine the basin relief and slope, the lithological factor accelerates erosion and river incision.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-433
Number of pages17
StatePublished - 15 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • Ar/Ar dating
  • Golan Heights
  • Landscape evolution
  • River incision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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