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The influence of climate on the tectonic evolution of mountain belts

An Erratum to this article was published on 30 August 2009

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Abstract

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.

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Change history

  • 30 August 2009

    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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Acknowledgements

I am indebted to colleagues and students for insightful discussions, in particular S. Willett, C. Beaumont, B. Meade, D. Stolar and K. Hodges. Discussions with members of the Earth System Evolution Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research have been pivotal in my understanding of the interaction of climate and tectonics. A review by C. Beaumont helped improve an earlier manuscript. Funding from NSF EAR programmes in Continental Dynamics, Geomorphology and Land Use Dynamics and Tectonics supported the development of ideas in this review.

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Whipple, K. The influence of climate on the tectonic evolution of mountain belts. Nature Geosci 2, 97–104 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo413

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