Pliocene erosional pulse and glacier-landscape feedbacks in the western Alaska Range

Earth and Planetary Science Letters



Pliocene–Pleistocene glaciation modified the topography and erosion of most middle- and high-latitude mountain belts, because the evolution of catchment topography controls long-term glacier mass balance and erosion. Hence, characterizing how erosion rates change during repeated glaciations can help test hypothesized glacier erosion-landscape feedbacks across a range of settings. To better understand how glaciations and landscapes coevolve on geologic timescales, I quantify erosion rates in the glaciated western Alaska Range with low-temperature thermochronometric data and modeling. Zircon (U–Th)/He and apatite fission track data suggest mountain-building was underway by the early Miocene. In contrast, lower-temperature apatite (U–Th)/He age-elevation and grain age-kinetic data indicate that erosion accelerated coincident with regional Pliocene glaciation ca. 4 Ma. Furthermore, erosion rates calculated within an eroding half-space indicate slow erosion at a rate ≤0.3 km/m.y. before 4.2 Ma, an initial pulse of rapid erosion at a rate of 1.0–1.6 km/m.y. during 4.2–2.9 Ma, and more moderate erosion at a rate of 0.4–0.7 km/m.y. since 2.9 Ma. The initial erosion pulse suggests a significant transient landscape adjustment to the introduction of efficient glacial erosion. The subsequent decrease in Pleistocene erosion rates is consistent with a negative feedback between continuing glaciation and glacier size/erosivity: If glacial erosion outpaces rock uplift, glacier erosion decreases over time as topography, mass balance, valley gradients, and ice flux are reduced. These findings imply that in areas of moderate rock uplift rates, the onset of local Plio–Pleistocene glaciation may have been punctuated by an initial pulse of rapid landscape change, after which change became more gradual.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Pliocene erosional pulse and glacier-landscape feedbacks in the western Alaska Range
Series title Earth and Planetary Science Letters
DOI 10.1016/j.epsl.2018.06.009
Volume 497
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Geology Minerals
Description 7 p.
First page 62
Last page 68
Country United States
State Alaska
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