Decoupling of modern shortening rates, climate, and topography in the Caucasus
© 2016 Elsevier B.V. The Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountains and their associated foreland basins contain similar rock types, experience a similar two-fold, along-strike variation in mean annual precipitation, and were affected by extreme base-level drops of the neighboring Caspian Sea. However, the two Caucasus ranges are characterized by decidedly different tectonic regimes and rates of deformation that are subject to moderate (less than an order of magnitude) gradients in climate, and thus allow for a unique opportunity to isolate the effects of climate and tectonics in the evolution of topography within active orogens. There is an apparent disconnect between modern climate, shortening rates, and topography of both the Greater Caucasus and Lesser Caucasus which exhibit remarkably similar topography along-strike despite the gradients in forcing. By combining multiple datasets, we examine plausible causes for this disconnect by presenting a detailed analysis of the topography of both ranges utilizing established relationships between catchment-mean erosion rates and topography (local relief, hillslope gradients, and channel steepness) and combining it with a synthesis of previously published low-temperature thermochronologic data. Modern climate of the Caucasus region is assessed through an analysis of remotely-sensed data (TRMM and MODIS) and historical streamflow data. Because along-strike variation in either erosional efficiency or thickness of accreted material fail to explain our observations, we suggest that the topography of both the western Lesser and Greater Caucasus are partially supported by different geodynamic forces. In the western Lesser Caucasus, high relief portions of the landscape likely reflect uplift related to ongoing mantle lithosphere delamination beneath the neighboring East Anatolian Plateau. In the Greater Caucasus, maintenance of high topography in the western portion of the range despite extremely low (<2–4 mm/y) modern convergence rates may be related to dynamic topography from detachment of the north-directed Greater Caucasus slab or to a recent slowing of convergence rates. Large-scale spatial gradients in climate are not reflected in the topography of the Caucasus and do not seem to exert any significant control on the tectonics or structure of either range.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Forte, A., Whipple, K., Bookhagen, B., & Rossi, M. (2016). Decoupling of modern shortening rates, climate, and topography in the Caucasus. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 449, 282-294. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2016.06.013