We determine the paleoelevation of the northern Sierra Nevada (California) in the Oligocene based on hydrogen stable isotope compositions of meteoric water preserved within volcanic glass from ignimbrites sampled across the range. A 48‰ decrease in the isotopic composition of hydrated glass from ignimbrites located near paleo-sea level to ignimbrites 100 km to the east reflects the effect of ancient high topography on precipitation. These data show that 31–28 Ma ago, the northern Sierra Nevada had a steep western gradient and elevations similar to the present. This study, placed in the context of other paleoaltimetry studies, suggests that the range was a high topographic feature throughout the Cenozoic and that the majority of uplift occurred in the Late Cretaceous to early Cenozoic, much earlier than some studies have proposed.

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