A growing number of Earth scientists are studying tectonic-climate interaction, which is reflected in a constantly evolving mountain landscape. Robert S. Anderson, University of California, Santa Cruz, and Michael A. Ellis, Center for Earthquake Research and Information, Memphis State University, describe the field as “one of the most exciting interdisciplinary fields of Earth science.” By studying the landscape, researchers are gaining new insight into the kinematics and dynamics of crustal deformation.
Several important feedbacks may exist at the large time and length scales involved in building mountains. Tectonic uplift produces mountains that influence both regional and global climate. At the same time, the evolution of mountain belts is influenced by climatically driven erosion, which transfers crustal mass away from the mountain belt. The distribution and intensity of the erosional process is strongly affected by the uplift, and the transfer of mass affects the stress system in the crust and mantle. It has also been suggested that large regions of uplift (plateaus) may trigger global climate changes through increased weathering rates at high elevations,