Thermochronometry Reveals Headward Propagation of Erosion in an Alpine Landscape

Science  01 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6025, pp. 84-88
DOI: 10.1126/science.1198401

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Glacial erosion of mountain ranges produces spectacular alpine landscapes and, by linking climate with tectonics, influences a broad array of geophysical phenomena. Although the resultant landforms are easily identified, the timing and spatial pattern of topographic adjustment to Pleistocene glaciations remain poorly known. We investigated topographic evolution in the archetypal glacial landscape of Fiordland, New Zealand, using (U-Th)/He thermochronometry. We find that erosion during the past 2 million years removed the entire pre-Pleistocene landscape and fundamentally reshaped the topography. Erosion focused on steep valley segments and propagated from trunk valleys toward the heads of drainage basins, a behavior expected if subglacial erosion rate depends on ice sliding velocity. The Fiordland landscape illustrates complex effects of climate on Earth’s surface morphology.

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