Drainage network geometry versus tectonics in the Argentera Massif (French-Italian Alps)

Adriano Ribohni, Matteo Spagnolo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


The Argentera Massif (French-Italian Alps), with its uniform lithology, was selected to evaluate how known Plio-Pleistocene tectonics have conditioned the drainage network geometry. The drainage network was automatically derived and ordered from a 10 m-resolution DEM. On hillshade images, alignments of morphological features were identified. The Massif was subdivided into 22 domains of 50 km(2) within which the directions of every river channel segment and the direction of the aligned morphological features were compared and contrasted with the strike of tectonic structures measured in the field. Results suggest that the Argentera drainage system is variously controlled by recent tectonics, depending on the Massif sector taken into account. In the NW sector, the vertical uplift is less because the strain has been accommodated in an oblique direction along a lateral thrust. In the SE sector, strain in a predominantly vertical direction along a frontal thrust has resulted in a major vertical displacement. Accordingly, the NW sector is characterized by (i) a strong geometric relationship between the main tectonic structures and the directions of river channels, (ii) longitudinal main rivers bordering the Massif, and (iii) a general trellis pattern within the domains.

In the SE sector, the prolonged uplift has forced an original longitudinal drainage system to develop as a transverse system. This change has occurred by means of fluvial captures that have been identified by the presence of windgaps, fluvial elbows and knickpoints. At the domain scale, intense uplift of the SE sector has prompted the drainage pattern to evolve as a dendritic type with no clear influence of structure in the channel orientations. (c) 2007 Elsevier B.V All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-266
Number of pages14
Issue number3-4
Early online date6 Mar 2007
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2008


  • drainage network pattern
  • channel orientation
  • tectonic geomorphology
  • remote sensing
  • Argentera Massif
  • Western Alps
  • active fault
  • structural evolution
  • lateral propagation
  • Alpine tectonics
  • crustal strain
  • river profiles
  • fold growth
  • New-Zealand
  • patterns


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