Geological Society of London
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What perturbs isotherms? An assessment using fission-track thermochronology and thermal modelling along the Gotthard transect, Central Alps

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journal contribution
posted on 2016-06-21, 12:19 authored by C. Glotzbach, C. Spiegel, J. Reinecker, M. Rahn, W. Frisch

Interpretation of low-temperature thermochronological data usually relies on assumptions on the shape of isotherms. Recently, a number of thermal modelling approaches investigate and predict the theoretical influence of topography on isotherms. The application and proof of these predictions is not well confirmed by measured data. Here we present apatite fission-track (AFT) data from samples collected along the Gotthard road tunnel and its corresponding surface line to test these predictions. AFT ages broadly cluster around 6 Ma along the tunnel. No correlation of tunnel ages with superimposed topography is seen, which means that topography-induced perturbation of isotherms under given boundary conditions (topographic wavelength 12 km; relief 1.5 km; exhumation rate 0.45 km Ma−1) can be neglected for the interpretation of AFT ages. Thus, in areas characterized by similar topographies and exhumation rates, apparent exhumation rates deduced from the age–elevation relationship (AER) of AFT data need no correction for topography-induced perturbation of isotherms. Three-dimensional (3D) numerical thermal modelling was carried out incorporating thermally relevant parameters and mechanisms, such as topography, geology, thermal conductivities and heat production. Modelling reveals a strong influence on the shape of isotherms caused by spatially variable thermal parameters, especially heat production rates. Therefore, not only topography has to be considered for interpreting low-temperature thermochronological data, but also other parameters like heat production rates.

Supplementary material: 1. Electron microprobe analyses, 2. Topography and model extend, 3. Model parameters are all available online at