, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 729–738 | Cite as

How significant is inheritance when dating rockslide boulders with terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide dating?—a case study of an historic event

  • Paula HilgerEmail author
  • John C. Gosse
  • Reginald L. Hermanns
Original Paper


Terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide (TCN) exposure dating of boulders is frequently used for rockslide chronology. A well-recognized source of error that cannot be readily quantified is related to inheritance of TCN produced in the rock prior to failure. The effect of inheritance is not constant and will be greatest in the instance of a very recent shallow failure on a high-altitude surface with low event frequencies. We illustrate the effect by measuring 10Be concentrations in six boulders exposed for only 9 years before sampling, on a rock avalanche in Puerto Aysén, Chile. Their apparent exposure ages range from 216 ± 76 to 1755 ± 436 years. The mean apparent exposure age of a statistical cluster of three samples exceeds the real exposure time by 345 ± 36 years (3800%), implying that all sampled rock surfaces experienced pre-failure TCN production. A reconstructed pre-failure topography enables the analysis of possible pre-failure boulder positions and an estimate of the range of possible inherited concentrations along a 2D transect. Despite a maximum failure-mass thickness of 110 m, the boulders seem to have originated from depths shallower than 14 m. Because of the likelihood that large boulders, prioritized for TCN sampling, originate from relatively shallow pre-failure depths owing to surface-near transport with minor turbation, it is necessary to consider potentially inherited TCN concentrations and their effect on the age determination, especially in cases of young rockslides, where the commonly adjusted effects of boulder erosion and snow, ash, or vegetation shielding are negligible in comparison.


Surface exposure dating Rockslides Rock avalanches Inheritance 



The authors acknowledge the support of S. Sepúlveda and his research team, giving the first author the opportunity to join the field campaign in January 2016 and collect the samples. The TCN sample preparation was completed by the first author at CRISDal at Dalhousie University under supervision of G. Yang. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions that allowed improving the former version of the manuscript.

Funding information

The study is part of the project “CryoWALL – Permafrost slopes in Norway” (243784/CLE) funded by the Research Council of Norway (RCN). Additional funding was provided by the Norwegian Geological Survey, Trondheim, and the Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo. J. Gosse acknowledges support for the CRISDal Lab from Canada Foundation for Innovation (21305 and 36158), NSERC, and NSRIT grants.

Supplementary material

10346_2018_1132_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.3 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 2387 kb)
10346_2018_1132_MOESM2_ESM.csv (2 kb)
ESM 2 (CSV 1 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geohazards and Earth ObservationGeological Survey of NorwayTrondheimNorway
  2. 2.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  3. 3.Department of Earth SciencesDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  4. 4.Department of Geoscience and PetroleumNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway

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