Coupling glacial erosion and tectonics at active orogens: A numerical modeling study

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Climate change indirectly alters the distribution of tectonic uplift at active orogens by modifying the action of surface processes, which in turn alters mountain topography. The impact of alpine glaciation on tectonic activity is explored here. The predictions of previous analytical, critical wedge models are compared with the output of a numerical model that explicitly couples rock uplift produced by convergence with surface erosion. Glacial and fluvial and erosive processes are calculated over a two-dimensional grid, which uses an ice evolution model to calculate the rate of glacial erosion due to ice sliding. Tectonic uplift is determined by a two-dimensional finite element convergence model. The simulations performed support the predictions of previous one-dimensional analytical modeling of fluvially dominated orogens: Increasing precipitation decreases orogen width by the one quarter power. The simulations show that glacially dominated landscapes have similar dependencies. The total glacial erosion yield is determined to be proportional to the glacial coverage, sublinearly dependent on the precipitation rate, and linearly dependent on the glacial erosion constant that relates erosion with sliding speed. Climate also determines the distribution of tectonic uplift in the model. If the equilibrium line altitude (ELA) is high and glacial processes are limited to peak regions, the center of the mountain range experiences the highest rate of rock uplift. Extensive glaciation increases rock uplift rates on the flanks of the range. The style of glacial erosion is also important: A simple glacial buzzsaw does not create the same tectonic response as models that physically simulate glacial erosion. The simulations support the idea that a climate cooling of the magnitude recorded in the late Cenozoic has the potential to more than double the rate of rock uplift in appropriate orogens. The implications of the model are discussed for observations from the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, the Alaskan coastal range, and the southern Andes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberF02015
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 24 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology

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