Coupled spatial variations in precipitation and long-term erosion rates across the Washington Cascades

Peter W. Reiners, Todd A. Ehlers, Sara G. Mitchell, David R. Montgomery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

279 Scopus citations


Past studies of tectonically active mountain ranges have suggested strong coupling and feedbacks between climate, tectonics and topography. For example, rock uplift generates topographic relief, thereby enhancing precipitation, which focuses erosion and in turn influences rates and spatial patterns of further rock uplift. Although theoretical links between climate, erosion and uplift have received much attention, few studies have shown convincing correlations between observable indices of these processes on mountain-range scales. Here we show that strongly varying long-term (>106-10 7 yr) erosion rates inferred from apatite (U-Th)/He cooling ages across the Cascades mountains of Washington state closely track modern mean annual precipitation rates. Erosion and precipitation rates vary over an order of magnitude across the range with maxima of 0.33 mm yr-1 and 3.5 m yr-1, respectively, with both maxima located 50 km west (windward) of the topographic crest of the range. These data demonstrate a strong coupling between precipitation and long-term erosion rates on the mountain-range scale. If the range is currently in topographic steady state, rock uplift on the west flank is three to ten times faster than elsewhere in the range, possibly in response to climatically focused erosion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)645-647
Number of pages3
Issue number6967
StatePublished - Dec 11 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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