The U-shaped valleys were created by slow-moving glaciers that behaved something like road graders, eroding the bedrock over hundreds or thousands of years.
When the glaciers receded, rivers carved V-shaped notches, or inner gorges, into the floors of the glacial valleys. But scientists disagreed about whether those notches were erased by subsequent glaciers and then formed all over again as the second round of glaciers receded.
New research led by a University of Washington scientist indicates that the notches endure, at least in part, from one glacial episode to the next. The glaciers appear to fill the gorges with ice and rock, protecting them from being scoured away as the glaciers move.
When the glaciers receded, the resulting rivers returned to the gorges and easily cleared out the debris deposited there, said David Montgomery, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences.
“The alpine inner gorges appear to lay low and endure glacial attack. They are topographic survivors,” Montgomery said.
“The answer is not so simple that the glaciers always win. The river valleys can hide under the glaciers and when the glaciers melt the rivers can go back to work.”
Montgomery is lead author of a paper describing the research, published online Dec. 5 in Nature Geoscience. Co-author is Oliver Korup of the University of Potsdam in Germany, who did the work while with the Swiss Federal Research Institutes in Davos, Switzerland.
The researchers used topographic data taken from laser-based (LIDAR) measurements to determine that, if the gorges were erased with each glacial episode, the rivers would have had to erode the bedrock from one-third to three-quarters of an inch per year since the last glacial period to get gorges as deep as they are today.
“That is screamingly fast. It’s really too fast for the processes,” Montgomery said. Such erosion rates would exceed those in all areas of the world except the most tectonically active regions, the researchers said, and they would have to maintain those rates for 1,000 years.
Montgomery and Korup found other telltale evidence, sediment from much higher elevations and older than the last glacial deposits, at the bottom of the river gorges. That material likely was pushed into the gorges as glaciers moved down the valleys, indicating the gorges formed before the last glaciers.
“That means the glaciers aren’t cutting down the bedrock as fast as the rivers do. If the glaciers were keeping up, each time they’d be able to erase the notch left by the river,” Montgomery said.
“They’re locked in this dance, working together to tear the mountains down.”
The work raises questions about how common the preservation of gorges might be in other mountainous regions of the world.
“It shows that inner gorges can persist, and so the question is, ‘How typical is that?’ I don’t think every inner gorge in the world survives multiple glaciations like that, but the Swiss Alps are a classic case. That’s where mountain glaciation was first discovered.”
Vince Stricherz | Newswise Science News
Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past
28.04.2017 | National Science Foundation
Citizen science campaign to aid disaster response
28.04.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences