The Role of Surface Processes in Partitioning of Strain and Uplift, St. Elias Orogen, Southern Alaska

  •  Benjamin Hooks    


Three-dimensional thermo-mechanical numerical simulations of the ongoing Yakutat–North America collision are used to identify the role of surface processes in triggering localized rapid uplift, exhumation, and strain observed within the St. Elias orogen of southern Alaska. Thermochronological data reveal localized rapid exhumation associated with the Seward-Malaspina and Hubbard Glaciers within a tectonic corner structure where transpressional motion to the south along the Fairweather Fault system transitions to shortening to the north and west within the active fold-and-thrust belt of the St. Elias orogen. The modeled deformation patterns are characteristic of oblique convergence within a tectonic corner, recording the transition from simple shear to contractional strain within a zone spatially consistent with the highest exhumation rates suggesting the corner geometry is the primary control of strain partitioning.The relative roles of surface-related processes versus tectonics-related processes in the development of this pattern of deformation were tested with the inclusion of an erosional surface model. The presence of surface processes enhanced the uplift and development of a localized rapid exhumation. When spatially and temporally erosion models are employed, the location of maxima is shifted in response. This indicates that efficient erosion, and resultant deposition and material advection can influence the localization of strain and uplift.

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