River loads and modern denudation of the Alps — A review

Hinderer, Matthias; Kastowski, Martin; Kamelger, Achim; Bartolini, Carlo; Schlunegger, Fritz (2013). River loads and modern denudation of the Alps — A review. Earth-science reviews, 118, pp. 11-44. Elsevier 10.1016/j.earscirev.2013.01.001

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This paper presents the first comprehensive analysis of sediment and dissolved load across an entire mountain range. We investigate patterns and rates of modern denudation of the European Alps based on a compilation of data about river loads and reservoir sedimentation from 202 drainage basins that are between ca. 1 to 10,000 km2 large. The study basins cover about 50% of the total area of the Alps. Modern glaciated basins have the highest sediment yields of up to 7000 t km− 2 a− 1, which are on average 5 to 10 times higher than in non-glaciated basins. Likewise sediment yield and glacial cover are positively correlated. Instead, relief is a relatively weak predictor of sediment yield. The strong glacial impact in the correlations is due to glacier recession since the 19th century as well as due to glacial conditioning during repeated Quaternary glaciations which have produced the strong transient state of the Alpine landscape. We suggest that this is the major cause for ca. 3 fold enhanced denudation of the western compared to the eastern Alps. Chemical denudation rates are highest in the external Alps dominated by carbonate sedimentary rocks, where they make up about one third of total denudation. The high rates cannot be explained without anhydrite dissolution. We estimated that only 45% of the sediments mobilized in headwaters are exported out off the Alps, most sediments being trapped in artificial reservoirs. The total amount of sediment annually trapped within the Alps equates to 43 Mt. When corrected for sediment storage, we obtain an area-weighted mean total denudation rate for the Alps of about 0.32 mm a− 1. The pre-dam rate might be as high as 0.42 mm a− 1. In total, ca. 35 plus 23 Mt of mass are exported each year out of the Alps as solids and solutes, respectively. These rates are not enough to out pace modern rock uplift. Nevertheless, pattern of sediment yield across the Alps coincides roughly with the intensity of glacial conditioning and modern rock uplift, supporting the hypothesis of an erosion-driven uplift of the Alps.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Review Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Schlunegger, Fritz


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology








Fritz Schlunegger

Date Deposited:

11 Aug 2014 09:22

Last Modified:

06 Oct 2015 11:29

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Alps, Denudation, River loads, Reservoirs, Uplift, Human impact





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