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An Exhumation History of Continents over Billion-Year Time Scales

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Science  06 Jan 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6064, pp. 73-76
DOI: 10.1126/science.1213496

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Continental Thermocouple

The patchy presence of billions-of-years-old continental crust indicates a complex coupling between the buoyant forces keeping the lithosphere floating on the mantle and the persistent erosional forces gradually wearing the crust away. Measuring long-term rates of exhumation—the creation of new rock surfaces due to erosion—can reveal how the crust is thermally coupled to the underlying mantle, but techniques to do so have often only been able to resolve a limited temperature range across narrow slices of geologic time. Blackburn et al. (p. 73) used uranium-lead thermochronology, which is sensitive to the much higher temperatures representative of lower crustal depths, to construct a long-term quantitative model of exhumation and erosion for North America.

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