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Earth Surface Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

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© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Research article
15 May 2018
Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Earth Surface Dynamics (ESurf).
Glacial buzzcutting limits the height of tropical mountains
Maxwell T. Cunningham1,2, Colin P. Stark2, Michael R. Kaplan2, and Joerg M. Schaefer1,2 1Dept of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University, New York, New York, 10027
2Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, New York, 10964
Abstract. The widespread correlation between snowline elevation and mountain height is evidence that glacial buzzcutting puts a cap on mountain growth. The match is strongest for mid-latitude ranges, where glacial erosion has persisted over Pleistocene climate cycles and tends to truncate mountain range elevation near the upper limit of the late-Pleistocene snowline. Signs of a glacial buzzsaw are weakest in tropical ranges, where glacial erosion features are sparse and generally restricted to cold periods such as the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Here we show that glacial erosion does indeed truncate tropical mountains, often close to the cold-phase snowline. It does so on a cyclic basis, with glacial landscapes expanding during cold periods, and contracting during largely ice-free warm periods as fluvially-driven escarpments encroach on all sides. We find evidence of this cyclicity in the perched terrain of the ChirripĆ³ massif in Costa Rica, where surface-exposure age dating and topographic analysis show that LGM denudation occurred across a glacial landscape that has shrunk during post-LGM scarp encroachment. We find a similar story in the Central Range of Taiwan, where scarp encroachment is even more severe. We deduce that, during the Pleistocene, cold-phase glacial erosion has imposed a ceiling on tropical mountain growth, and that even the archetypally steady-state landscape of Taiwan has been subject to strongly cyclic changes in erosion rate.
Citation: Cunningham, M. T., Stark, C. P., Kaplan, M. R., and Schaefer, J. M.: Glacial buzzcutting limits the height of tropical mountains, Earth Surf. Dynam. Discuss.,, in review, 2018.
Maxwell T. Cunningham et al.
Maxwell T. Cunningham et al.
Maxwell T. Cunningham et al.


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Short summary
Erosion by glaciers can limit the height to which mountains grow. The prevalence of this phenomenon is debated, and it is thought that glaciers only limit mountain height in temperate regions, where glaciers grow large during cold periods. We present evidence that glacial erosion has limited the rise of mountains in tropical Costa Rica and Taiwan, where glaciers are only intermittently present. Our work points to the remarkable efficiency of glacial erosion, even in the warmest places.
Erosion by glaciers can limit the height to which mountains grow. The prevalence of this...