Erosion and exhumation in accretionary orogens: Experimental and geological approaches



[1] This study examines the role of erosion on exhumation and deformation history of accretionary orogens through experimental and geological methods. Fault propagation, kinematics, and exhumation rates in an eroded thrust wedge are analyzed through scaled sandbox simulations by testing different parameters (friction, rheologic layering, and sediment input/output ratio). A model Coulomb wedge is submitted to erosion under flux steady state conditions; that is, the volume of eroded material remains equal to the volume of newly accreted material, maintaining a constant surface slope during shortening. Results show that the way of exhumation depends on the internal dynamics of thrust wedges and, conversely, on how this dynamics is modified by erosion. In the eroded thrust wedges the diversity of exhumation patterns is controlled by the mode of fault propagation, depending on the basal friction (high or low). The vertical component of exhumation is generally higher for the wedges with high basal friction than for low-friction wedges. The uplift of material occurs along a cluster of subvertical thrusts in the middle part of the eroded thrust wedge with low basal friction. The material is exhumed along a series of inclined (20°–50°) thrusts in the rear of the high-friction wedge. The zone of maximum exhumation is generally localized in the middle part of the thrust wedge and migrates toward the backstop with continued shortening. The vertical exhumation rate increases with time, and the material accreted later is rapidly transferred to the main exhumation zone compared to the material accreted during the early stages. The exhumation occurs at rates 2 times faster in the wedges with half the thickness than in full thickness wedges. The total quantity of eroded material at the end of convergence constitutes 36–50% of initial model area for the thrust wedges with low basal friction and 20–40% for the high basal friction wedges. The extent of basal underplating increases with total shortening. The area of basal underplated material constitutes up to 30 and 40% of the eroded thrust wedge area for the models with low and high basal friction, respectively. Presence of décollements in the accreted series allows underplating of thrust units developing an anticlinal stack, whose growth and location is favored by erosion. Our results are compared to different present-day active and ancient convergent orogens (Himalaya, Taiwan, Southern Alps of New Zealand, and Cascadia orogen), allowing the different specific exhumation processes to be characterized.