How steady are steady-state mountain belts? A reexamination of the Olympic Mountains (Washington state, USA)

Lorenz Michel, Christoph Glotzbach, Sarah Falkowski, Byron A. Adams, Todd A. Ehlers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
221 Downloads (Pure)


The Olympic Mountains of Washington state (USA) represent the aerially exposed accretionary wedge of the Cascadia Subduction Zone and are thought to be in flux steady state, whereby the mass outflux (denudation) and influx (tectonic accretion) into the mountain range are balanced. We use a multi-method approach to investigate how temporal variations in the influx and outflux could affect previous interpretations of flux steady state. This includes the analysis of published and new thermochronometric ages for (U-Th) = He dating of apatite and zircon (AHe and ZHe, respectively), fission-track dating of apatite and zircon (AFT and ZFT, respectively), 1-D thermo-kinematic modeling of thermochronometric data, and independent estimates of outflux and influx. In total, we present 61 new AHe, ZHe, AFT, and ZFT thermochronometric ages from 21 new samples. AHe ages are generally young (> 4 Ma), and, in some samples, AFT ages (5-8 Ma) overlap ZHe ages (7-9 Ma) within uncertainties. Thermo-kinematic modeling shows that exhumation rates are temporally variable, with rates decreasing from > 2 to > 0.3 km Myr -1 around 5-7 Ma. With the onset of Plio-Pleistocene glaciation, exhumation rates increased to values > 1 km Myr -1 . This demonstrates that the material outflux varies through time, requiring a commensurate variation in influx to maintain flux steady state. Evaluation of the offshore and onshore sediment record shows that the material influx is also variable through time and that the amount of accreted sediment in the wedge is spatially variable. This qualitatively suggests that significant perturbations of steady state occur on shorter timescales (105-106 years), like those created by Plio-Pleistocene glaciation. Our quantitative assessment of influx and outflux indicates that the Olympic Mountains could be in flux steady state on long timescales (10 7 years).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-299
Number of pages25
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'How steady are steady-state mountain belts? A reexamination of the Olympic Mountains (Washington state, USA)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this