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Episodic exhumation and relief growth in the Mont Blanc massif, Western Alps from numerical modelling of thermochronology data

C. Glotzbach 1 Peter A. van Der Beek 1 C. Spiegel 2 
1 Tectonique reliefs et bassins
ISTerre - Institut des Sciences de la Terre
Abstract : The Pliocene-Quaternary exhumational and topographic evolution of the European Alps and its potential climatic and tectonic controls remain a subject of controversy. Here, we apply inverse numerical thermal-kinematic modelling to a spatially dense thermochronological dataset (apatite fission-track and (U-Th)/He) of both tunnel and surface samples across the Mont Blanc massif in the Western Alps, complemented by new zircon fission-track data, in order to better quantify its Neogene exhumation and relief history. Age-elevation relationships and modelling results show that an episodic exhumation scenario best fits the data. Initiation of exhumation in the Mont Blanc massif at 22 ± 2 Ma with a rate of 0.8 ± 0.15 km/Myr is probably related to NW-directed thrusting during nappe emplacement. Exhumation rates decrease at 6 ± 2 Ma to values of 0.15 ± 0.65 km/Myr, which we interpret to be the result of a general decrease in convergence rates and/or extensive exposure of less erodible crystalline basement rocks from below more easily erodible Mesozoic sediments. Finally, local exhumation rates increase up to 2.0 ± 0.6 km/Myr at 1.7 ± 0.8 Ma. Modelling shows that this recent increase in local exhumation can be explained by valley incision and the associated increase in relief at 0.9 ± 0.8 Ma, leading to erosional unloading, isostatic rebound and additional rock uplift and exhumation. Given the lack of tectonic activity as evidenced by constant thermochronological ages along the tunnel transect, we suggest that the final increase in exhumation and relief in the Mont Blanc massif is the result of climate change, with the initiation of mid-Pleistocene glaciations leading to rapid valley incision and related local exhumation.
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Submitted on : Monday, November 28, 2011 - 10:21:09 AM
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C. Glotzbach, Peter A. van Der Beek, C. Spiegel. Episodic exhumation and relief growth in the Mont Blanc massif, Western Alps from numerical modelling of thermochronology data. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Elsevier, 2011, 304 (3-4), pp.417-430. ⟨10.1016/j.epsl.2011.02.020⟩. ⟨insu-00645449⟩



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