Modes, tempo, and spatial variability of Cenozoic cratonic denudation: The West African example


Corresponding author: A. Beauvais, Aix Marseille Université, IRD, CNRS, CEREGE UM34, 13545 Aix en Provence, France BP 80–13545 Aix-en-Provence Cedex 4, France. (


[1] Quantifying long-term erosion of tropical shields is crucial to constraining the role of lateritic regolith covers as prominent sinks and sources of CO2 and sediments in the context of long-term Cenozoic climate change. It is also a key to understanding long-term landform evolution processes operating over most of the continental surface and their control onto the sediment routing system. We study the surface evolution of West Africa over three erosion periods (~ 45–24, ~ 24–11 and ~ 11–0 Ma) recorded by relicts of three subcontinental-scale lateritic paleolandsurfaces whose age is bracketed by 39Ar/40Ar dating of lateritic K-Mn oxides. Denudation depths and rates compiled from 380 field stations show that despite heterogeneities confined to early-inherited reliefs, the subregion underwent low and homogeneous denudation (~ 2–20 m Ma–1) over most of its surface whatever the considered time interval. This homogeneity is further documented by a worldwide compilation of cratonic denudation rates, over long-term, intermediate and modern Cenozoic time scales (100–107 yr). These results allow defining a steady state cratonic denudation regime that is weathering-limited, i.e., controlled by the thickness of the (lateritic) regolith available for stripping. Steady state cratonic denudation regimes are enabled by maintained compartmentalization of the base levels between river knick points controlled by relief inheritance. Under such regimes, lowering of base levels and their fossilization are primarily imposed by long-term eustatic sea level fall and climate rather than by epeirogeny. The expression of steady state cratonic denudation regimes in clastic sedimentary fluxes remains to be investigated.