Evolution of topography in glaciated mountain ranges
Author(s)Brocklehurst, Simon H. (Simon Howard), 1975-
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.
Kelin X. Whipple.
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This thesis examines the response of alpine landscapes to the onset of glaciation. The basic approach is to compare fluvial and glacial landscapes, since it is the change from the former to the latter that accompanies climatic cooling. This allows a detailed evaluation of hypotheses relating climate change to tectonic processes in glaciated mountain belts. Fieldwork was carried out in the eastern Sierra Nevada, California, and the Sangre de Cristo Range, Colorado, alongside digital elevation model analyses in the western US, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and the Himalaya of northwestern Pakistan. The evidence presented here suggests that the so-called "chicken-and-egg" hypothesis is overstated in its appeal to glacial erosion as a major source of relief production and subsequent peak uplift. Glaciers in the eastern Sierra Nevada and the western Sangre de Cristos have redistributed relief, but have produced only modest relief by enlarging drainage basins at the expense of low-relieftopography. Glaciers have lowered valley floors and ridgelines by similar amounts, limiting the amount of "missing mass" that can be generated, and causing a decrease in drainage basin relief.(cont.) The principal response of glaciated landscapes to rapid rock uplift is the development of towering cirque headwalls. This represents considerable relief production, but is not caused by glacial erosion alone. Large valley glaciers can maintain their low gradient regardless of uplift rate, which supports the "glacial buzzsaw" hypothesis. However, the inability of glaciers to erode steep hillslopes as rapidly can cause mean elevations to rise. Cosmogenic isotope dating is used to show that (i) where plucking is active, the last major glaciation removed sufficient material to reset the cosmogenic clock; and (ii) former glacial valley floors now stranded near the crest of the Sierra Nevada are at varying stages of abandonment, suggesting a cycle of drainage reorganisation and relief inversion due to glacial erosion similar to that observed in river networks. Glaciated landscapes are quite distinct from their fluvial counterparts in both landforms and processes. Given the scarcity of purely fluvial, active mountain ranges, it is essential that glacial erosion be considered amongst the processes sculpting active orogenic belts.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, 2002.Includes bibliographical references.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.