Buzzcut or Fossil? Exploring the Origin of Perched Low-Relief Landscapes in the Tropics

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Maxwell Cunningham, Columbia University of New York, Palisades, NY, United States, Colin Peter Stark, Columbia University in the City of New York, Palisades, NY, United States, Michael R Kaplan, Lamont-DohertyEarthObservatory, Palisades, NY, United States and Joerg M Schaefer, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observ, Palisades, NY, United States
Throughout the tropics, high mountain regions have a “buzzcut” appearance, with low-relief spines perched high (>2500m) above deeply incised ridge-and-valley topography. Many of these mountain ranges intersect the local LGM ELA, but few studies have speculated on the role glacial erosion may have played in shaping their perched, low-relief landforms. Instead, multiple studies have invoked an abrupt increase tectonic uplift that switched the orogen from a low-relief, low erosion rate regime to a high-relief, high erosion rate mode. In this model context, perched landscapes are fossil remnants of the low-erosion rate regime, and the presence of glacial/paraglacial landforms is coincidental. However, an alternative interpretation is possible: rather than a tectonically-forced switch in erosion rate regime, low-relief spines were cut by alpine glacial erosion.

To assess the influence of glacial/paraglacial processes on the formation of low-relief topography in a tropical mountain range, we conducted fieldwork at Mount Chirripó (3819m), Costa Rica. At Mount Chirripó, the estimated LGM ELA is ~3500m. River profile analysis shows a conspicuous cluster of knickpoints at ~2500m, which has been used to infer a rapid increase in regional tectonic uplift between 1-2 Ma that produced high-relief landscapes fringing ancient, low-relief landscapes. As an alternative, we hypothesize that glacial/postglacial processes acting throughout the Pleistocene played a dominant role in the formation and preservation of Mount Chirripó’s low-relief spine.

At Mount Chirripó, we identified glacial erosion features between 3400-3800m, including moraines, striated bedrock, glacial till, glaciofluvial outwash and post-glacial landslides. Additionally, we observed a low-sloping valley floored by angular debris at ~3100m that we interpret to be of glacial origin. We collected samples for surface exposure age dating from erratics, striated bedrock, and landslide debris boulders. Mapping of glacial features, topographic analysis, and surface exposure age dating will inform us of the timing, duration, and spatial extent of glacial/paraglacial erosion above 2500m at Mount Chirripó.