Abstract

We examine the morphologic factors that determine the isostatic response to landscape dissection in orogenic terrains in order to quantify the relative contributions of active tectonic uplift and passive isostatic uplift in generating mountain topography. We demonstrate that although peaks many times the elevation of an assumed initial plateau can theoretically be generated, only moderate amounts of peak uplift can be explained by isostatic rebound in real terrains. Analysis of topographic data from the European Alps and other orogens indicates that isostatic uplift in response to dissection can account for about one-fourth of the elevation of the highest peaks if local isostatic compensation is assumed and less if the lithosphere has significant flexural rigidity. We conclude that although isostatic uplift can be significant in orogens, high peaks are predominantly a consequence of tectonic processes in convergent settings.

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