Abstract

Gently sloped summits and ridges (collectively referred to as summit flats) are abundant in many Laramide ranges in the western United States. The erosion rate of summit flats is ∼10 m/m.y., on the basis of the concentrations of cosmogenic radionuclides. Because erosion rates in valleys between summit flats are an order of magnitude faster, relief within these ranges is currently increasing by about 100 m/m.y. If summit-flat erosion is slower than rock uplift driven by the isostatic response to valley erosion, then this relief production could result in increased summit elevations. The mean depth of material eroded from a smooth surface fit to existing summit flats varies from 280 to 340 m in four Laramide ranges, based on geographic information system (GIS) analyses of digital elevation models. This erosion would result in a maximum of 250–300 m of rock uplift, assuming Airy isostasy. However, because the Laramide ranges examined here are narrow relative to the flexural wavelength of the lithosphere, erosionally driven rock uplift is limited to ∼50–100 m. Over the past several million years, summit erosion would approximately offset this rock uplift. Therefore, we conclude that summit elevations have remained essentially constant even though several hundred meters of relief has been produced. On the basis of valley and summit erosion rates and the average depth of erosion, we estimate that relief production in Laramide ranges began at ca. 3 Ma. We hypothesize that this relief production was climatically driven and was associated with the onset or enhancement of alpine glaciation in these ranges.

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