The distribution of detrital mineral cooling ages in modern sediments has been proposed as a proxy for long-term, catchment-averaged erosion rates in developing orogens. However, the applicability of this potentially valuable tool hinges on restrictive assumptions regarding a catchment's steady state thermal and topographic evolution. In this paper, we outline a method by which these assumptions can be tested through statistical comparisons of cooling age distributions for detrital minerals and the hypsometric curves for their source regions using cumulative synoptic probability density functions. Our approach is illustrated with new detrital muscovite 40Ar/39Ar dates from the Marsyandi River valley, in the central Nepalese Himalaya. One of three studied catchments (Nyadi Khola) showed the strong correlation of hypsometry and cooling ages expected for steady state conditions over the 11 to 2.5 Ma time frame. The pattern of mismatch between hypsometry and cooling age distribution in the other catchments suggests that spatially nonuniform and transient erosional processes may be responsible for departure from steady state. Cooling age distribution comparisons for samples collected from nearby localities, samples collected in different years, and different grain size fractions from the same sample were used to evaluate sampling fidelity over a range of spatial scales (200 to 2590 km2). We found that approximately 50 analyses from a single sediment sample adequately characterize the cooling age signal for tributary catchments with simple erosional histories. However, because of temporally and spatially transient erosion, a specific detrital sample is unlikely to adequately characterize the complex signal in trunk stream sediments that integrate information from several large tributaries.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology