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Formation of Australian continental margin highlands driven by plate–mantle interaction

Müller, R. Dietmar and Flament, Nicolas and Matthews, Kara J. and Williams, Simon E. and Gurnis, Michael (2016) Formation of Australian continental margin highlands driven by plate–mantle interaction. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 441 . pp. 60-70. ISSN 0012-821X. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2016.02.025.

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Passive margin highlands occur on most continents on Earth and play a critical role in the cycle of weathering, erosion, and atmospheric circulation. Yet, in contrast to the well-developed understanding of collisional mountain belts, such as the Alps and Himalayas, the origin of less elevated (1–2 km) passive margin highlands is still unknown. The eastern Australian highlands are a prime example of these plateaus, but compared to others they have a well-documented episodic uplift history spanning 120 million years. We use a series of mantle convection models to show that the time-dependent interaction of plate motion with mantle downwellings and upwellings accounts for the broad pattern of margin uplift phases. Initial dynamic uplift of 400–600 m from 120–80 Ma was driven by the eastward motion of eastern Australia's margin away from the sinking eastern Gondwana slab, followed by tectonic quiescence to about 60 Ma in the south (Snowy Mountains). Renewed uplift of ∼700 m in the Snowy Mountains is propelled by the gradual motion of the margin over the edge of the large Pacific mantle upwelling. In contrast the northernmost portion of the highlands records continuous uplift from 120 Ma to present-day totalling about 800 m. The northern highlands experienced a continuous history of dynamic uplift, first due to the end of subduction to the east of Australia, then due to moving over a large passive mantle upwelling. In contrast, the southern highlands started interacting with the edge of the large Pacific mantle upwelling ∼40–50 million years later, resulting in a two-phase uplift history. Our results are in agreement with published uplift models derived from river profiles and the Cretaceous sediment influx into the Ceduna sub-basin offshore southeast Australia, reflecting the fundamental link between dynamic uplift, fluvial erosion and depositional pulses in basins distal to passive margin highlands.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Müller, R. Dietmar0000-0002-3334-5764
Flament, Nicolas0000-0002-3237-0757
Matthews, Kara J.0000-0003-3249-3869
Williams, Simon E.0000-0003-4670-8883
Gurnis, Michael0000-0003-1704-597X
Additional Information:© 2016 Elsevier B.V. Received 11 November 2015; Received in revised form 11 February 2016; Accepted 12 February 2016. R.D.M., K.J.M. and M.G. were supported by Australian Research Council Discovery Grant DP130101946 and R.D.M., N.F. and S.E.W. were supported by Australian Research Council ITRP Grant IH130200012; M.G. was also supported by the National Science Foundation (through EAR-1161046 and EAR-1247022). This research was undertaken with the assistance of resources from the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), which is supported by the Australian Government. We thank Sabin Zahirovic for help with drafting Fig. 1, and Joel Potter for drafting Fig. 2. We are grateful to Alan Collins and an anonymous reviewer for their detailed comments, which helped improve the manuscript substantially.
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Australian Research CouncilDP130101946
Australian Research CouncilIH130200012
Australian GovernmentUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:plate tectonics; geodynamics; dynamic topography; margin highland; uplift; subduction
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20160527-101443123
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Official Citation:R. Dietmar Müller, Nicolas Flament, Kara J. Matthews, Simon E. Williams, Michael Gurnis, Formation of Australian continental margin highlands driven by plate–mantle interaction, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Volume 441, 1 May 2016, Pages 60-70, ISSN 0012-821X, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:67437
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:27 May 2016 17:22
Last Modified:11 Nov 2021 00:32

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