An Evaluation of Erosional-Geodynamic Thresholds for Rapid Orogenic Denudation

Brandon M. Spencer, J. Ryan Thigpen, Sean F. Gallen, Jason M. Dortch, Kip V. Hodges, Richard D. Law, Calvin A. Mako

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Tectonic and surface processes (e.g., erosion) act in concert to denude and flatten elevated topography during and following collisional uplift. In orogens that collapsed rapidly (<10 Myr), the effectiveness and relative contribution of erosion remains poorly understood. Here, we use 1-D and 2-D finite-difference models to test plausible magnitudes of erosion during denudation of the Scandian orogenic wedge, in northern Scotland, which previous work suggests may have been very rapid. Thermochronologic, stratigraphic, and thermobarometric data constrain initial post-collision uplift rates as well as the cumulative post-collisional exhumation magnitude. Using these constraints, we consider an idealized orogen subjected to fluvial incision, hillslope diffusion, and subsequent isostatic compensation for a duration of 10 Myr. Using a range of geomorphic parameters, we evaluate whether erosion alone is sufficient to achieve the observed cumulative exhumation. Additionally, we apply a thermal model during the same period to determine the viability of the previous erosion estimates in the presence of a transient geothermal gradient. For most cases with initial uplift rates of 0.5–2.5 mm yr−1, total erosion is insufficient to account for the observed Scandian denudation history, regardless of whether a fixed or transient geothermal gradient is assumed. Average elevations near the crest of the modeled orogen after 10 Myr are >1.4 km, which is inconsistent with the post-Scandian landscape relief interpreted from the reconstructed depositional surface of the Emsian (407–403 Ma) Old Red Sandstone, Collectively these findings imply a combination of rapid erosion and tectonic denudation likely accomplished the rapid collapse of the Scandian wedge.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021JB022353
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • Scotland
  • erosion
  • numerical models
  • orogenic collapse
  • orogenic decay

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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