EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Muon Paleotopometry – Measuring crustal thickness variations with muons?

Gerald Raab1, John Gosse1, and Alan Hidy2
Gerald Raab et al.
  • 1Earth and Environmental Sciences, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada (
  • 2Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, USA

Understanding topographic relief evolution and its changes over hundreds of thousands to million-year timescales remains challenging. Recent approaches usually combine numerical modelling of terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide (TCN) exposure ages on strath terraces, exhumation histories based on thermochronology, drainage basin evolution, and basin stratigraphy. However, even when combined, these methods are unable to measure the rate changes with precisions needed to differentiate climate from tectonic drivers over multiple glacial cycles and longer timescales.

Muon-paleotopometry is a new approach that may address the methodological gap in determining relief generation. Muon-paleotopometry utilizes the dependence of cosmic ray muon flux on crustal shielding depth. The spatial pattern of concentrations of multiple muon-induced TCN measured along a near-horizontal transect under valleys and peaks relates directly to the history of changes (positive or negative) in crustal thickness. It enables paleotopometry above the sample datum over an isotope-specific monitoring duration. By sampling at depths of hectametres, long-lived TCNs are not sensitive to minor short-term (<105-yr) changes owing to cut and fill terraces or transgressions for instance, but short-lived isotopes may provide constraints on this. The method uses concentration differences among samples, so is not significantly impacted by limitations in knowledge of muon flux and interactions at those depths. Early proof-of-concept investigations at Dalhousie (M. Soukup, Hon. Thesis, 2017) provided encouraging results to allow for the current large-scale relief investigation of the European Alps.

How to cite: Raab, G., Gosse, J., and Hidy, A.: Muon Paleotopometry – Measuring crustal thickness variations with muons?, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-17271,, 2023.