Research Topic

Reaching New Heights: Recent Progress in Paleotopography

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About this Research Topic

Mountain belts and plateaus are crucial features of the landscape. While occupying a limited amount of the Earth’s surface (about 4% above 2 km elevation), topographic highs have a global impact on climate, hydrology, biodiversity, and tectonic deformation. Topographic growth notably causes the:

• ...

Mountain belts and plateaus are crucial features of the landscape. While occupying a limited amount of the Earth’s surface (about 4% above 2 km elevation), topographic highs have a global impact on climate, hydrology, biodiversity, and tectonic deformation. Topographic growth notably causes the:

• Re-arrangement of fluvial networks and atmospheric circulation patterns;
• Formation of highly asymmetric precipitation, surface processes, and ecosystems;
• Establishment of local surface temperature gradients and associated zonal evolution of flora and fauna, and;
• Local perturbation of the crustal stress field and the locus of active deformation.

In recent years, a growing number of studies and data on the evolution of topography in deep time (millions of years) and its impact on earth surface processes have been generated, using various field-, laboratory-, and computer-based approaches from a wide range of scientific disciplines. Among them are:

• Disciplines that relate floral and faunal fossil findings, their physiognomic characters, and/or certain sedimentary deposits to a broad range of paleoelevations;
• Stable isotope based approaches (δ18O, δD) using proxy materials of ancient meteoric water such as pedogenic carbonates, authigenic clays, leaf-wax lipid biomarkers, or volcanic glass;
• Mean annual air temperature reconstructions using clumped isotope (Δ47) compositions extracted from calcareous paleosols;
• Global climate modeling studies that have investigated a broad range of aspects (e.g. atmospheric currents, rainfall distribution and its isotopic composition, and lapse range changes) associated with topographic change;
• Other proxies still at the development stage, such as basalt vesicles, paired-cosmogenic nuclides, triple oxygen isotope (Δ’17O) compositions, and branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (brGDGTs).

The accuracy and uncertainty associated with all these approaches are still being discussed, and despite the growing number of applications, studies providing quantitative paleoaltimetry estimates are still rare. Moreover, most quantitative studies so far have concentrated on the youngest and most extensive mountain ranges such as the Himalayas or the North and South American Cordilleras, while the topographic evolution of smaller or much older orogens remain virtually undocumented.

The idea of this Research Topic is to bring together new ideas and results on all aspects of paleotopography from mountain and plateau regions worldwide, thus providing a platform for in-depth discussion and scientific exchange on this topic. Hence, we seek contributions that propose innovative approaches and promote interdisciplinary discussions on recent advances in paleotopography estimates and its potential impact on Earth surface processes, climate, and biota. We welcome articles (Original Research, Review or Mini Review, Method, and Data Reports) addressing, but not limited to, the following themes:

• New discoveries in field-, laboratory-, and computer-based paleoaltimetry studies;
• Development and improvement of methodology;
• Interdisciplinary studies applying multiple paleoaltimetry approaches;
• Interactions of past mountain topography with biodiversity;
• Large and small-scale topographic developments through time.


Keywords: mountain building, orogenic plateaus, paleoaltimetry, biodiversity, landscape evolution


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