Denudation rates from cosmogenic 10Be measured in quartz from recent river sediment have previously been used in the Central Alps to argue that rock uplift occurs through isostatic response to erosion in the absence of ongoing convergence. We present new basin-averaged denudation rates from large rivers in the Eastern and Southern European Alps together with a detailed topographic analysis in order to infer the forces driving erosion. Denudation rates in the Eastern and Southern Alps of 170-1,400 mm ky-1 are within a similar range to those in the Central Alps for similar lithologies. However, these denudation rates vary considerably with lithology, and their variability generally increases with steeper landscapes, where correlations with topographic metrics also become poorer. Tertiary igneous rocks are associated with steep hillslopes and channels and low denudation rates, whereas pre-Alpine gneisses usually exhibit steep hillslopes and higher denudation rates. Molasse, flysch, and schists display lower mean basin slopes and channel gradients, and, despite their high erodibility, low erosion rates. Exceptionally low denudation rates are also measured in Permian rhyolite, which has high mean basin slopes. We invoke geomorphic inheritance as a major factor controlling erosion, such that large erosive glaciers in the late Quaternary cold periods were more effective in priming landscapes in the Central Alps for erosion than in the interior Eastern Alps. However, the difference in tectonic evolution of the Eastern and Central Alps potentially adds to differences in their geomorphic response; their deep structures differ significantly and, unlike the Central Alps, the Eastern Alps are affected by ongoing tectonic influx due to the slow motion and rotation of Adria. The result is a complex pattern of high mountain erosion in the Eastern Alps, which has evolved from one confined to the narrow belt of the Tauern Window in late Tertiary time to one affecting the entire underthrust basement, orogenic lid, and parts of the Southern Alps today.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)