Intrinsic stream-capture control of stepped fan pediments in the High Atlas piedmont of Ouarzazate (Morocco)

A. Pastor, J. Babault, A. Teixell, M. L. Arboleya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The Ouarzazate basin is a Cenozoic foreland basin located to the south of the High Atlas Mountains. The basin has been externally drained during the Quaternary, with fluvial dynamics dominated by erosive processes from a progressive base level drop. The current drainage network is composed of rivers draining the mountain and carrying large amounts of coarse sediments and by piedmont streams with smaller catchments eroding the soft Cenozoic rocks of the Ouarzazate basin. The coarse-grained sediments covering the channel beds of main rivers cause the steepening of the channel gradient and act as a shield inhibiting bedrock incision. Under such circumstances, piedmont streams that incise to lower gradients evolve to large, depressed pediments at lower elevations and threaten to capture rivers originating in the mountain. Much of the current surface of the Ouarzazate basin is covered by coarse sediments forming large systems of stepped fan pediments that developed by the filling of low elevation pediments after a capture event. We identified 14 capture events, and previously published geochronology support an. ~. 100. ka frequency for fan pediment formation. Our study indicates that the reorganization of the fluvial network in the Ouarzazate basin during the late Pleistocene and Holocene has been controlled by the piedmont-stream piracy process, a process ultimately controlled by the cover effect. The stream capture is influenced by erosion, sediment supply and transport, and therefore may not be entirely decoupled from tectonic and climatic forcing. Indeed, we show that at least two capture events may have occurred during climate changes, and local tectonic structures control at most the spatial localization of capture events. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-103
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2012


  • Cover effect
  • Drainage network
  • Fan pediment
  • Intrinsic process
  • Ouarzazate basin
  • Piedmont-stream capture


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