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The impact of earthquakes on orogen-scale exhumation

Francis, Oliver, Hales, Tristram, Hobley, Daniel, Fan, Xuanmei, Horton, Alexander, Scaringi, Gianvito and Huang, Runqiu 2020. The impact of earthquakes on orogen-scale exhumation. Earth Surface Dynamics 8 , pp. 579-593. 10.5194/esurf-8-579-2020

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Abstract

Individual, large thrusting earthquakes can cause hundreds to thousands of years of exhumation in a geologically instantaneous moment through landslide generation. The bedrock landslides generated are important weathering agents through the conversion of bedrock into mobile regolith. Despite this, orogen-scale records of surface uplift and exhumation, whether sedimentary or geochemical, contain little to no evidence of individual large earthquakes.We examine how earthquakes and landslides influence exhumation and surface uplift rates with a zero-dimensional numerical model, supported by observations from the 2008 Mw 7:9 Wenchuan earthquake. We also simulate the concentration of cosmogenic radionuclides within the model domain, so we can examine the timescales over which earthquake-driven changes in exhumation can be measured. Our model uses empirically constrained relationships between seismic energy release, weathering, and landsliding volumes to show that large earthquakes generate the most surface uplift, despite causing lowering of the bedrock surface. Our model suggests that when earthquakes are the dominant rock uplift process in an orogen, rapid surface uplift can occur when regolith, which limits bedrock weathering, is preserved on the mountain range. After a large earthquake, there is a lowering in concentrations of 10Be in regolith leaving the orogen, but the concentrations return to the long-term average within 103 years. The timescale of the seismically induced cosmogenic nuclide concentration signal is shorter than the averaging time of most thermochronometers (> 103 years). However, our model suggests that the short-term stochastic feedbacks between weathering and exhumation produce measurable increases in cosmogenically measured exhumation rates which can be linked to earthquakes.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Ocean Sciences
Sustainable Places Research Institute (PLACES)
Publisher: European Geosciences Union (EGU) / Copernicus Publications
ISSN: 2196-6311
Funders: NERC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 28 July 2020
Date of Acceptance: 12 June 2020
Last Modified: 14 Sep 2020 14:23
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/133723

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