In recent years, in situ stress determinations and earthquake source mechanism studies have demonstrated that large deviatoric stresses are common in the upper 10 to 20 km of the continental crust. This study examines the potential role of erosion in the development of the state of stress in the crust. The stress state induced by erosion may be broken down into three separate components: stresses due to the reduction of overburden pressure, stresses due to uplift on a sphere, and thermal stresses. Temperature distributions are calculated as a function of time during an erosional episode; a range of initial temperature distributions and erosion rates are considered. Crustal stress profiles are then obtained assuming elastic behavior at temperatures less than 300°C. During erosion the stress due to removal of overburden pressure is compressional, whereas the stresses due to uplift on a sphere and the thermal stresses are tensional. The latter dominate and we find that erosion leads to predominantly tensional stresses.

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