Stratigraphic and thermochronologic data are used to study the processes that shaped the topography of the central Apennines of Italy. These are part of a major, active mountain belt in the center of the Mediterranean area, where several subduction zones control a complex topography. The Apennines were shaped by contraction at the front of the accretionary wedge overlying the subducting Adria microplate followed by extension at the wedge rear in response to eastward slab roll-back. In the central Apennines, intermontane extensional basins on the western flank rise eastward toward the summit. We contribute with new data consisting of 28 (U-Th-Sm)/He and 10 fission track ages on apatites to resolve a complex pattern of thermal histories in time and space, which we interpret as reflecting the transitional state of the orogen, undergoing a two-phase evolution related to initial slab retreat, followed by slab detachment. Along the Tyrrhenian coast, we document cooling from depths ≥3−4 km occurring between 8 and 5 Ma and related to the opening of marine extensional basins. Post−5 Ma, a broader region of the central Apennines exhibits cooling from variable depths, between <2 km in most areas and ≥3−4 km in the northeast, and with different onset times: at ca. 4 Ma in the west, at ca. 2.5 Ma in the center and northeast, and at ca. 1 Ma in the southeast. Between 5 and 2.5 Ma, exhumation is associated with modest topographic growth during the late stages of thrusting. Since 2.5 Ma, exhumation has concurred with the opening of intermontane basins in the west and in the east, with regional topographic growth and erosion, that we interpret to be associated with the locally detaching slab.

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