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Earth Surface Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 03 Dec 2019

Submitted as: research article | 03 Dec 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Earth Surface Dynamics (ESurf).

The impact of earthquakes on orogen-scale exhumation

Oliver R. Francis1,2, Tristram C. Hales1,2, Daniel E. J. Hobley1, Xuanmei Fan3, Alexander J. Horton1, Gianvito Scaringi4, and Runqiu Huang3 Oliver R. Francis et al.
  • 1School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff university, Main Building, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT
  • 2Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University 33 Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3BA
  • 3The State Key Laboratory of Geohazard Prevention and Geoenvironment Protection, Chengdu University of Technology, Chengdu 610059, Sichuan, China
  • 4Institute of Hydrogeology, Engineering Geology and Applied Geophysics, Faculty of Science, Charles University, Albertov 6, 128 46 Prague 2, Prague, Czech Republic

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 sediment. Despite this, records of surface uplift and exhumation at the orogen scale contain little to no evidence of individual large earthquakes. We examine how earthquakes influence exhumation rates by exploring how stochastic earthquakes and landslides affect surface uplift and exhumation in a zero-dimensional numerical model, supported by observations from the 2008 Mw7.9 Wenchuan earthquake. Our model uses empirically constrained seismic, weathering, and landsliding scaling laws to show that large earthquakes generate the most surface uplift, despite causing exhumation of the bedrock surface. Where earthquakes, rather than aseismic processes predominantly drive rock uplift, rapid surface uplift can occur when regolith is preserved in the orogen, which limits the amount of bedrock weathering. By simulating the concentration of cosmogenic radionuclides within the model domain, we can examine the timescales over which earthquake-driven changes in exhumation can be measured. After an initial lowering in well-mixed landslide material, the concentration of 10Be returns to the long-term average within 103 years. We further demonstrate that the variability in exhumation caused by earthquakes occurs at timescales shorter than the averaging time of most thermochronometers. When combined with evidence of signal shredding response within recent earthquakes, it seems unlikely for single earthquakes to affect long-term measurements of exhumation rates. Nevertheless, short term stochastic feedbacks between weathering and exhumation produce measurable increases in cosmogenically measured exhumation rates which can be linked to earthquakes.

Oliver R. Francis et al.
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Oliver R. Francis et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Earthquakes can be responsible for up to half of the long-term erosion in a mountain range. However, singular events are hard to identify in geological records and landscapes. We use a numerical model of a tectonically active landscape to demonstrate that mixing of regolith within orogens reduces the time scale of the earthquake's perturbation of cosmogenic nuclide concentrations, resulting in them potentially being unrecorded potentially due to the low temporal resolution of exhumation records.
Earthquakes can be responsible for up to half of the long-term erosion in a mountain range....