Paleobotanical Evidence for High Altitudes in Nevada During the Miocene

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Science  13 Jun 1997:
Vol. 276, Issue 5319, pp. 1672-1675
DOI: 10.1126/science.276.5319.1672

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Leaf physiognomy provides estimates of environmental parameters, including mean annual enthalpy, which is a thermodynamic parameter of the atmosphere that varies with altitude. Analyses of 12 mid-Miocene floras from western Nevada indicate that this part of the Basin and Range Province stood ∼3 kilometers above sea level at 15 to 16 million years ago, which is 1 to 1.5 kilometers higher than its present altitude. Much, if not all, of the collapse to present-day altitudes seems to have been achieved by ∼13 million years ago. The crust in much of this area has been extended and thinned throughout the past 40 to 50 million years, and the isostatic balance of a thinning crust requires subsidence, not uplift as suggested by previous paleobotanical work.

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