Erosion rate maps highlight spatio-temporal patterns of uplift and quantify sediment export of the Northern Andes

Richard F. Ott, Nicolás Pérez-Consuegra, Dirk Scherler, Andrés Mora, Kimberly L. Huppert, Jean Braun, Gregory D. Hoke, Jose R. Sandoval Ruiz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Erosion rates are widely used to assess tectonic uplift and sediment export from mountain ranges. However, the scarcity of erosion rate measurements often hinders detailed tectonic interpretations. Here, we present 25 new cosmogenic nuclide-derived erosion rates from the Northern Andes of Colombia to study spatio-temporal patterns of uplift along the Central and Eastern Cordillera. Specifically, we combine new and published erosion rate data with precipitation-corrected normalized channel steepness measurements to construct high-resolution erosion rate maps. We find that erosion rates in the southern Central Cordillera are relatively uniform and average ∼0.3 mm/a. In the northern Central Cordillera rapidly eroding canyons dissect slowly eroding, low-relief surfaces uplifting since 8.3−2.6+3.7 Ma, based on a block uplift model. We interpret that persistent steep slab subduction has led to an erosional steady-state in the southern Central Cordillera, whereas in the northern Central Cordillera, Late Miocene slab flattening caused an acceleration in uplift, to which the landscape has not yet equilibrated. The Eastern Cordillera also displays pronounced erosional disequilibrium, with a slowly eroding central plateau rimmed by faster eroding western and eastern flanks. Our maps suggest Late Miocene topographic growth of the Eastern Cordillera, with deformation focused along the eastern flank, which is also supported by balanced cross-sections and thermochronologic data. Spatial gradients in predicted erosion rates along the eastern flank of the Eastern Cordillera suggest transient basin-ward migration of thrusts. Finally, sediment fluxes based on our erosion maps, suggest that the Eastern Cordillera exports nearly four times more sediment than the Central Cordillera. Our analysis shows that accounting for spatial variations in erosion parameters and climate reveals important variations in tectonic forcing that would otherwise be obscured in traditional river profile analyses. Moreover, given relationships between tectonic and topographic evolution, we hypothesize that spatio-temporal variations in slab dip are the primary driver of the dynamic landscape evolution of the Northern Andes, with potentially superposed effects from inherited Mesozoic rift structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118354
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023


  • Central Cordillera
  • Colombia
  • Eastern Cordillera
  • cosmogenic nuclides
  • steady-state topography
  • subduction geometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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