Abstract

We present a new method for tracing sediment using detrital apatite (U-Th)/He (AHe) thermochronometry, and use this to quantify the spatial distribution of catchment erosion in the eastern Sierra Nevada, California. Well-developed age-elevation relationships permit detrital AHe ages to track the elevations where sediment grains were shed from bedrock. We analyzed sediment exiting nonglaciated Inyo Creek and adjacent (formerly) glaciated Lone Pine Creek. Statistical comparison of measured AHe age probability density functions (PDFs) with predicted PDFs based on catchment hypsometries suggests that Inyo Creek is eroding uniformly, consistent with field observations of weathered hillslopes tightly coupled to the fluvial system. In contrast, significant mismatch between measured and predicted PDFs from Lone Pine Creek reveals that sediment derives primarily from the lower half of the catchment. The dearth of older ages is likely due to sediment storage in cirques and moraines and/or focused erosion at intermediate elevations, both potential consequences of glacial modification. Measured PDFs can also improve cosmogenic nuclide-based erosion rates by more accurately scaling nuclide production rates. Our results demonstrate the utility of detrital AHe thermochronometry for quantifying erosion in fluvially and glacially sculpted catchments.

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