Review abstract

Nature Geoscience 2, 97 - 104 (2009)
Published online: 25 January 2009 | Corrected online: 30 August 2009 | doi:10.1038/ngeo413

There is an Erratum (October 2009) associated with this Review.

Subject Categories: Geomorphology | Structural geology, tectonics and geodynamics

The influence of climate on the tectonic evolution of mountain belts

Kelin X. Whipple1

Simple physical arguments, analogue experiments and numerical experiments all suggest that the internal dynamics of actively deforming collisional mountain ranges are influenced by climate. However, obtaining definitive field evidence of a significant impact of climate on mountain building has proved challenging. Spatial correlations between intense precipitation or glaciation and zones of rapid rock-uplift have indeed been documented in numerous mountain ranges, and are consistent with model predictions. More compelling evidence — such as tectonic changes in response to (rather than just coincident with) climate change — has, however, rarely been documented. Triggered by a climate-driven increase in erosion rate, friction-dominated mountain ranges are expected to show a number of simultaneous responses: a decrease in the width of the range, a temporary increase in sediment yield, a persistent increase in the rate of rock uplift and a reduction in the subsidence rate of surrounding basins. The most convincing field evidence for such a coordinated response of a mountain range to climate change comes from the European Alps and the St Elias range of Alaska.

  1. School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85487, USA.

Correspondence to: Kelin X. Whipple1 e-mail:

* In the version of this Review originally published, Fig. 4d was incorrect. This has now been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions of the Review.


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