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

Spatial and temporal distribution of glacial erosion as recorded by apatite (U-Th)/He and 4He/3He thermochronology.

Maxime Bernard, Peter van der Beek, Cody Colleps, and Julien amalberti
Maxime Bernard et al.
  • Potsdam, Geoscience Institute, Potsdam, Germany (

Constraining the impact of Quaternary glaciations on landscape dynamics is required to better understand the interaction between tectonics, climate, and erosion. Over the years, low-temperature thermochronology such as apatite (U-Th)/He (AHe) has been used to quantify glacial erosion in different climatic and tectonic settings. However, in some contexts, AHe records lack temporal resolution because of limited exhumation due to glacial incision and/or low geothermal gradients. In addition, significant spatial variability in erosion can affect the quality of thermal-kinematic inversions when combining spatially distributed AHe data. This effect may be significant in glacial settings where a switch from a fluvial to a glacial landscape induced a significant change in the spatial distribution of erosion.

However, the 4He/3He thermochronology can extract lower-temperature and higher-resolution thermal histories from an AHe dataset. The method uses the spatial distribution of natural 4He in an apatite crystal, which reflects the rate of cooling through the AHe partial retention zone. It has been successfully applied to track glacial incision and relief-development histories that would have been untraceable with conventional AHe thermochronology. Consequently, thermochronology data can now provide more detailed and localized thermal history. While 4He/3He thermochronology has been successfully used in settings where background exhumation rates are moderate, the sensitivity of the technique remains untested in settings with notably low exhumation-rates, such as at passive margins.

Here, we couple a glacial landscape-evolution model (iSOSIA) with a new version of a thermo-kinematic model (PecubeGUI), incorporating radiation-damage effects on helium diffusion, to explore the ability of apatite (U-Th)/He and 4He/3He thermochronometers to record glacial incision. To do so, we model a range of synthetic glacial scenarios in different tectonic, climatic, and thermal settings.  Our landscape-evolution models include glacial, fluvial and hillslope erosion, as well as sediment transport. We assess model predictions of thermochronologic parameters, including age-elevation relationships and 4He/3He spectra, and their evolution when switching from a steady-state fluvial to a glacial topography. This modelling exercise aims to provide a guide for sampling strategies and interpretations for both conventional apatite (U-Th)/He and 4He/3He thermochronology when working in glacial settings, considering their particular tectonic and climatic context.

How to cite: Bernard, M., van der Beek, P., Colleps, C., and amalberti, J.: Spatial and temporal distribution of glacial erosion as recorded by apatite (U-Th)/He and 4He/3He thermochronology., EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-8714,, 2023.

Supplementary materials

Supplementary material file