Abstract

We synthesized published data on the erosion of the Alpine foreland basin and apatite fission-track ages from the Alps to infer the erosional sediment budget history for the past 5 m.y. The data reveal that erosion of the Alpine foreland basin is highest in front of the western Alps (between 2 and 0.6 km) and decreases eastward over a distance of 700 km to the Austrian foreland basin (∼200 m). For the western Alps, erosion rates are >0.6 km/m.y., while erosion rates for the eastern foreland basin and the adjacent eastern Alps are <0.1 km/m.y., except for a small-scale signal in the Tauern Window. The results yield a large ellipsoidal, orogen-crossing pattern of erosion, centered along the western Alps. We suggest that accelerated erosion of the western Alps and their foreland basin occurred in response to regional-scale surface uplift, related to lithospheric unloading of the Eurasian slab along the Eurasian-Adriatic plate boundary. While we cannot rule out recent views that global climate change led to substantial erosion of the European Alps since 5 Ma, we postulate that regional-scale tectonic processes have driven erosion during this time, modulated by an increased erosional flux in response to Quaternary glaciations.

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