Spatial variation of erosion in a small, glaciated basin in the Teton Range,Wyoming, based on detrital apatite (U-Th)/He thermochronology
L.M. Tranel, J.A. Spotila, M.J. Kowalewski and C.M. Waller
Journal name: Basin Research
Issue: Vol 23, No 5, October 2011 pp. 571 - 590
Info: Article, PDF ( 1.91Mb )
Evolution of mountain landscapes is controlled by dynamic interactions between erosional processes that vary in efficiency over altitudinal domains. Evaluation of spatial and temporal variations of individual erosion processes can augment our understanding of factors controlling relief and geomorphic development of alpine settings. This study tests the application of detrital apatite (U-Th)/ He thermochronology (AHe) to evaluate variable erosion in small, geologically complex catchments. Detrital grains from glacial and fluvial sediment in a single basin were dated and compared with a bedrock derived age-elevation relationship to estimate spatial variation in erosion over different climate conditions in the Teton Range, Wyoming. Controls and pitfalls related to apatite quality and yield were fully evaluated to assess this technique. Probability density functions comparing detrital age distributions identify variations in erosional patterns between glacial and fluvial systems and provide insight into how glacial, fluvial, and hillslope processes interact. Similar age distributions representing erosion patterns during glacial and interglacial times suggest the basin may be approaching steady- state. This also implies that glaciers are limited and no longer act as buzzsaws or produce relief. However, subtle differences in erosional efficiency do exist. The high frequency of apatite cooling ages from high altitudes represents either rapid denudation of peaks and ridges by mass wasting or an artifact of sample quality. A gap in detrital ages near the mean age, or mid-altitude, indicates the fluvial system is presently transport limited by overwhelming talus deposits. This study confirms that sediment sources can be traced in small basins with detrital AHe dating. It also demonstrates that careful consideration of mineral yield and quality is required, and uniform erosion assumptions needed to extract basin thermal history from detrital ages are not always valid.