The Greater Caucasus Mountains are a young (~5 m.y. old) orogen within the Arabia-Eurasia collision zone that contains the highest peaks in Europe and has an unusual topographic form for a doubly vergent orogen. In the east-central part (45°E-49°E), the range is nearly symmetric in terms of prowedge and retrowedge widths and the drainage divide is much closer to the southern margin of the range (prowedge side) than it is to the northern margin (retrowedge side). Moreover, the divide does not coincide with the topographic crest, but rather the crest is both shifted northward by as much as 40 km and traversed by several large north-flowing rivers. Both the topographic crest and drainage divide appear to coincide with zones of active rock uplift, because they are characterized by bands of high local relief and normalized channel steepness values (>300). This uplift pattern could result from a synchronous initiation of the two uplift zones or propagation of deformation either northward or southward. The two propagating scenarios differ fundamentally in their predictions for the relative ages of topographic features; northward propagation predicts that the topographic crest is younger than the drainage divide, and the southward scenario predicts the converse. Because available geologic and topographic data are consistent with both propagation directions, we use a landscape evolution model to test all three scenarios. Model results indicate that the current topography and drainage network is best explained by a northward propagation of deformation from the south flank into the interior of the east-central Greater Caucasus. Such propagation implies recent out-of-sequence deformation within the Greater Caucasus due to reactivation or development of new structures within the core of the orogen. It remains unclear if such deformation is a transient response to an accretion cycle or stems from a fundamental change in the structural architecture of the orogen.
ASJC Scopus subject areas