Abstract

The combination of large, temperate glaciers and rapid crustal convergence in the Saint Elias Mountains (southeastern Alaska, USA, and Yukon Territory and British Colombia, Canada) provides an exceptional opportunity to study the interactions between the tectonic and surface processes that have shaped most active orogens on Earth during much of the Quaternary. This research first provides a review of thermochronometric data sets recording exhumation under two major glacier systems of the Saint Elias Mountains, the Bagley-Bering and the Seward-Malaspina systems. These data sets are integrated over the single glacier systems and used in conjunction with glaciological data to investigate the interactions of glacial erosion and tectonics. Despite their proximity, the glaciological processes and geological settings of these two glacial systems differ significantly. On the east side of the orogen, sediments eroded from bedrock underneath the Malaspina Glacier reflect regions of rapid erosion under the slowly moving Seward Ice Field. Because the Seward Ice Field overlies a localized zone of major faulting and rapid exhumation, the strained and fractured bedrock is primed for erosion. On the west side, the Bering Glacier is the primary outlet for the Bagley Ice Field, which covers half of the crest of the orogen; however, few if any of the sediments at its terminus originate from under the Bagley Ice Field. Sediment transport is likely hindered by subglacial freeze-on processes that reduce the sediment-carrying capacity of subglacial rivers, though glacial surges are likely exceptions that deposit sediment far beyond the active margin of the glacier. Our study concludes that the widely invoked concepts of glacial erosion should be used with caution, as oversimplification can fail to account for important site-specific differences in geologic and glacial conditions.

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