Project

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TOPOALPS: The topographic history of the Alps

English title TOPOALPS: The topographic history of the Alps
Applicant Willett Sean D.
Number 138229
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Geologisches Institut ETH Zürich
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline Geology
Start/End 01.10.2011 - 31.08.2012
Approved amount 50'477.00
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Keywords (3)

Geomorphology; Topography; Glaciology

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
This is a proposal to continue and expand on work that was originally funded through the TOPOEurope Eurocore program of the ESF. This continuation request is driven by the need for a 4th year funding to complete the PhD project by expanding the originally funded work through further study of the pre-glaciation landscape.In the first stages of this project, we developed a code to simulate the evolution of landforms under different climatic conditions (i.e. glacial and interglacial climates) and with diverse surface processes (fluvial, glacial, hillslope, etc.) through modification of an existing code, ICE-CASCADE (Herman and Braun 2008). We can now model process such as sediment transport and subglacial hydrology. Application of this code has permitted us to propose a physical mechanism that explains how overdeepening have been formed in the foreland and interior valleys of the Alps. This should have profound impact on our understanding of how glacial erosion processes work. This was the main objective of our initial proposal and has been largely achieved.We have also developed new methods for predicting the spatial pattern of glacial erosion in the Alps and used this to predict pre-glacial topography. To achieve this, we have taken two approaches. First, we have developed a new geomorphometric analysis method based on the hypsometry of the landscape that enables a more objective quantification of the glacial signature. The study of the glacial signature on the landscape has suggested that glacial processes put a limit to the height of the Alpine belt. This study is summarized in a manuscript that was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The second approach has been to attempt to reconstruct the pre-glacial topography by fitting a landscape with a fluvial-profile to all channels. Thus the steep-cirque, flat valley landscape of the modern Alps is transformed into a constant-concavity, lower-relief, and fully fluvial landscape. This last method is still in early stages of development, but shows great promise. There are a variety of ways in which this concept can be applied; mostly based on how variable we believe rock erodability or tectonic uplift are. We also need to constrain how much erosion has occurred on the high summits of the Alps as a model parameter. The new work proposed here will develop this model, calibrate it to sediment yields and thermochronometric-derived uplift rates.Final results of this work will be a pre-glacial topography for the Alps which will serve as a working template to analyze other problems of landscape evolution, erosion and exhumation. For example, fluvial-based landscape evolution models cannot be meaningfully applied to the modern topography, but the fluvial model we derive here can serve as the basis for numerical modeling of erosion and sediment supply. This result is a key product of the TOPO-Alps project as it is this tool that we need to bring together some of the disparate parts of the project.Once the pre-glacial topography of the Alps is sufficiently well constrained, we also will apply the newly developed glacial erosion model to obtain more information about the, glacial modifications to the landscape. We will make model-based predictions of sediment production, mass redistribution and morphologic evolution. We will present the possible evolution of the pattern of glacial erosion through time, under different climatic forcing.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Glacial impact on short-wavelength topography and long-lasting effects on the denudation of a deglaciated mountain range
Salcher Bernhard C, Kober Florian, Kissling Eduard, Willett Sean D (2014), Glacial impact on short-wavelength topography and long-lasting effects on the denudation of a deglaciated mountain range, in Global and Planetary Change, 115, 59-70.
Spatial and temporal variations of glacial erosion in the Rhone valley (Swiss Alps): Insights from numerical modeling
Sternai Pietro, Herman Frederic, Valla Pierre G., Champagnac Jean-Daniel (2013), Spatial and temporal variations of glacial erosion in the Rhone valley (Swiss Alps): Insights from numerical modeling, in EARTH AND PLANETARY SCIENCE LETTERS, 368, 119-131.
Pre-glacial topography of the European Alps
Sternai Pietro, Herman Frederic, Champagnac Jean-Daniel, Fox Matthew, Salcher Bernhard, Willett Sean D. (2012), Pre-glacial topography of the European Alps, in GEOLOGY, 40(12), 1067-1070.
Glacial hydrology and erosion patterns: A mechanism for carving glacial valleys
Herman Frederic, Beaud Flavien, Champagnac Jean-Daniel, Lemieux Jean-Michel, Sternai Pietro (2011), Glacial hydrology and erosion patterns: A mechanism for carving glacial valleys, in EARTH AND PLANETARY SCIENCE LETTERS, 310(3-4), 498-508.
Glacial impact on short-wavelength topography and long-lasting effects on the denudation of a glaciated mountain range
Salcher B.C., Kober F., Kissling E., Willett S.D., Glacial impact on short-wavelength topography and long-lasting effects on the denudation of a glaciated mountain range, in Global and Planetary Change.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
EGU Conference Talk given at a conference The pre-glacial topography of the European Alps 22.04.2012 Vienna, Austria Willett Sean D.; Sternai Pietro;
EGU Conference Poster Glacial conditioning and postglacial erosion of the Central Alps - patterns and magnitude 22.04.2012 Vienna, Austria Willett Sean D.;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Linking the deep and surface Earth in the Alps Public Service Reviews International 2012

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
120499 TOPOALPS - The Topographic History of the Alps and its Tectonic and Climatic Drivers (IP1) 01.09.2008 Project funding (special)

Abstract

This is a proposal to continue and expand on work that was originally funded through the TOPOEurope Eurocore program of the ESF. This continuation request is driven by the need for a 4th year funding to complete the PhD project by expanding the originally funded work through further study of the pre-glaciation landscape.In the first stages of this project, we developed a code to simulate the evolution of landforms under different climatic conditions (i.e. glacial and interglacial climates) and with diverse surface processes (fluvial, glacial, hillslope, etc.) through modification of an existing code, ICE-CASCADE (Herman and Braun 2008). We can now model process such as sediment transport and subglacial hydrology. Application of this code has permitted us to propose a physical mechanism that explains how overdeepening have been formed in the foreland and interior valleys of the Alps. This should have profound impact on our understanding of how glacial erosion processes work. This was the main objective of our initial proposal and has been largely achieved.We have also developed new methods for predicting the spatial pattern of glacial erosion in the Alps and used this to predict pre-glacial topography. To achieve this, we have taken two approaches. First, we have developed a new geomorphometric analysis method based on the hypsometry of the landscape that enables a more objective quantification of the glacial signature. The study of the glacial signature on the landscape has suggested that glacial processes put a limit to the height of the Alpine belt. This study is summarized in a manuscript that was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The second approach has been to attempt to reconstruct the pre-glacial topography by fitting a landscape with a fluvial-profile to all channels. Thus the steep-cirque, flat valley landscape of the modern Alps is transformed into a constant-concavity, lower-relief, and fully fluvial landscape. This last method is still in early stages of development, but shows great promise. There are a variety of ways in which this concept can be applied; mostly based on how variable we believe rock erodability or tectonic uplift are. We also need to constrain how much erosion has occurred on the high summits of the Alps as a model parameter. The new work proposed here will develop this model, calibrate it to sediment yields and thermochronometric-derived uplift rates.Final results of this work will be a pre-glacial topography for the Alps which will serve as a working template to analyze other problems of landscape evolution, erosion and exhumation. For example, fluvial-based landscape evolution models cannot be meaningfully applied to the modern topography, but the fluvial model we derive here can serve as the basis for numerical modeling of erosion and sediment supply. This result is a key product of the TOPO-Alps project as it is this tool that we need to bring together some of the disparate parts of the project.Once the pre-glacial topography of the Alps is sufficiently well constrained, we also will apply the newly developed glacial erosion model to obtain more information about the, glacial modifications to the landscape. We will make model-based predictions of sediment production, mass redistribution and morphologic evolution. We will present the possible evolution of the pattern of glacial erosion through time, under different climatic forcing.
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