Using thermochronology to understand orogenic erosion

Peter W. Reiners, Mark T. Brandon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

797 Scopus citations


Erosion of orogenic mountain ranges exhumes deeply buried rocks and controls weathering, climate and sediment production and transport at a variety of scales. Erosion also affects the topographic form and kinematics of orogens, and it may provide dynamic feedbacks between climate and tectonics by spatially focused erosion and rock uplift. Thermochronology measures the timing and rates at which rocks approach the surface and cool as a result of exhumation. Relatively well-understood noble gas and fission-track thermochronometric systems have closure temperatures ranging from ∼60 to ∼550°C, making them sensitive to exhumation through crustal depths of about one to tens of kilometers. Thus, thermochronology can constrain erosion rates and their spatial-temporal variations on timescales of ∼105-107 years, commensurate with orogenic growth and decay cycles and possible climate-tectonic feedback response times. Useful methods for estimating erosion rates include inverting ages for erosion rates using crustal thermal models, vertical transects, and detrital approaches. Spatial-temporal patterns of thermochronometrically determined erosion rates help constrain flow of material through orogenic wedges, orogenic growth and decay cycles, paleorelief, and relationships with structural, geomorphic, or climatic features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-466
Number of pages48
JournalAnnual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences
StatePublished - 2006


  • Exhumation
  • Geochronology
  • Geomorphology
  • Orogeny
  • Tectonics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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