Variable late Neogene exhumation of the central European Alps: Low-temperature thermochronology from the Aar Massif, Switzerland, and the Lepontine Dome, Italy

Antoine J. Vernon, Peter A. van der Beek, Hugh D. Sinclair, Cristina Persano, Jurgen Foeken, Finlay M. Stuart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Several recent studies proposed an important increase in exhumation rate in the western European Alps since circa 5–4 Ma. In order to assess potential spatial differences in exhumation histories, we present new apatite fission track (AFT) and apatite (U-Th)/He (AHe) ages from the central Aar Massif (Guttannen area, Switzerland) and the western Lepontine Dome (Formazza area, Italy). Internal U/Th zoning in apatites explains alpha-ejection-corrected AHe ages that are older than the corresponding AFT ages in this study. A qualitative interpretation of AFT and AHe age-elevation relationships suggests a two-phase (9–7 and 5–3 Ma) exhumation scenario affecting the central Alps, with a stronger expression of the Pliocene signal in the Formazza area. However, a quantitative evaluation of exhumation scenarios using the 3-D heat equation solver Pecube highlights the existence of several other likely scenarios, casting doubt on the validity of a qualitative interpretation of the age-elevation relationships. In Formazza, scenarios suggested by quantitative modeling include continuous denudation at a rate of ∼750 m/Ma and a one-step exhumation rate change from 300 to 1000 m/Ma at 5 Ma. In Guttannen, they include continuous denudation at a rate of ∼400 m/Ma with valley deepening and two periods of higher exhumation rate (increasing from 300 to 700 m/Ma repeatedly at 9–7 and at 5–3 Ma). Contingent upon further flexural isostatic modeling, the magnitude of exhumation recorded in the axial region of the Alps since circa 5 Ma does not appear sufficient to solely explain the denudation recorded in the North Alpine Foreland Basin.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberTC5004
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalTectonics
Volume28
Issue number5
Early online date16 Sep 2009
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2009

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