EGU General Assembly 2023
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Will ESR thermochronometry reveal the timing of Rhône valley incision?

Georgina King1, Xiaoxia Wen1, Melanie Bartz1, Leif Anderson1,2, Lily Bossin1,3, Sumiko Tsukamoto4, Yan Li5, Frédéric Herman1, Manabu Ogata6, and Shigeru Sueoka6
Georgina King et al.
  • 1University of Lausanne, Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, Lausanne, Switzerland (
  • 2University of Utah
  • 3Paul Scherrer Institute, Villigen, Switzerland
  • 4Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics, Hanover, Germany
  • 5School of Ocean Science, China University of Geosciences, 100083 Beijing, China
  • 6Tono Geoscience Center, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, Toki, Japan

The impact of Quaternary climate change on landscape evolution, and more specifically the timing of incision of the overdeepened Alpine valleys, remains difficult to quantify with existing thermochronometric methods. Thermochronometers are used to determine rates of rock cooling, however most techniques are insensitive to temperature changes <60 °C that occur within the last kms of Earth’s crust. Recording cooling rates within this temperature range is essential if the impact of glacial-interglacial cycles on rock exhumation is to be resolved.

Electron spin resonance (ESR) thermochronometry applied to quartz minerals has the potential to span this thermal (and temporal) gap. We are developing this method by building upon previous studies (e.g. Scherrer, 1993) with the ultimate aim of constraining the timing of incision of the Rhône valley. Preliminary data from the Japanese Alps (King et al., 2020) indicate that ESR thermochronometry could resolve rates of <1 mm/yr over Quaternary timescales.

To determine a rock cooling history using ESR thermochronometry, signal accumulation and signal thermal loss must be robustly determined within the laboratory. We have collected a series of geological samples including rocks from boreholes that have known isothermal histories to investigate the potential of this technique. Our objective is to use the latter rocks to confirm the validity of our laboratory measurements and data-fitting/numerical models. Specifically, we have investigated known-thermal history samples from the MIZ1 borehole (Japan) and the KTB borehole (Germany) as well as samples from Sion in the Western European Alps.

Preliminary data reveal that the ESR dose response and thermal decay of different quartz samples is highly variable. Whereas the Al-centre of some samples exhibits linear dose response to laboratory irradiation up to 15 kGy, the Al-centre of other samples exhibits exponential, or double-exponential growth and saturates at doses of 3-4 kGy. The Ti-centre of most samples is well described by a single saturating exponential function, however samples from the MIZ1 borehole exhibit pronounced sub-linearity in the low-dose response region. Furthermore, whereas for some samples the Al-centre is less thermally stable than the Ti-centre, for other samples the inverse is observed. These observations suggest that a uniform measurement protocol and data-fitting approach may not be appropriate for quartz ESR data.

Inversion of two KTB samples yielded temperatures within uncertainty of borehole temperature, however results for the MIZ1 borehole are more variable and can only recover temperature at best within ~10%. Investigations into the cause of the poor results for the MIZ1 borehole are ongoing (i.e. measurement protocol, data-fitting/numerical model) and will be discussed. Preliminary data from Sion are promising and reveal consistent cooling rates.


Scherer, T., Agel, A., and Hafner S. S.: Determination of uplift rates using ESR investigations of quartz, KTB Rep. 93-2. Kontinentales Tiefbohrprogram der Bundesrepublic Deutschland Niedersächs. Landesamt Bodenforsch., Hannover, 121–124, 1993.

King, G.E., Tsukamoto, S., Herman, F., Biswas, R.H., Sueoka, S., Tagami, T. Electron spin resonance (ESR) thermochronometry of the Hida range of the Japanese Alps: validation and future potential. Geochronology 2, no. 1 (2020): 1-15.




How to cite: King, G., Wen, X., Bartz, M., Anderson, L., Bossin, L., Tsukamoto, S., Li, Y., Herman, F., Ogata, M., and Sueoka, S.: Will ESR thermochronometry reveal the timing of Rhône valley incision?, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-11839,, 2023.