Topographic change is one of the most informative measures of continental deformation, yet precise records of past elevation are scarce to non-existent in most orogenic belts. Recent advancement and new development of techniques to measure paleoelevation promise significant progress in understanding continental tectonic processes and how erosion acts on rising topography to shape the Earth’s surface. Outstanding issues in continental tectonics include understanding driving forces to deformation, how strain is vertically partitioned in the lithosphere, and how mass is redistributed or conserved in the lithosphere during deformation. Geodynamic and mechanical models that explore these topics make testable predictions of topographic evolution. This review explores key examples of how paleotopography relates to outstanding issues in continental tectonics that motivate development of robust, quantitative measures of paleoelevation.

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