Concept of the Exhumed Partial Annealing (Retention) Zone and Age-Elevation Profiles in Thermochronology

  • Paul G. FitzgeraldEmail author
  • Marco G. Malusà
Part of the Springer Textbooks in Earth Sciences, Geography and Environment book series (STEGE)


Low-temperature thermochronology is commonly applied to constrain upper crustal cooling histories as rocks are exhumed to Earth’s surface via a variety of geological processes. Collecting samples over significant relief (i.e., vertical profiles), and then plotting age versus elevation, is a long-established approach to constrain the timing and rates of exhumation. An exhumed partial annealing zone (PAZ) or partial retention zone (PRZ) with a well-defined break in slope revealed in an age-elevation profile, ideally complemented by kinetic parameters such as confined track lengths, provides robust constraints on the timing of the transition from relative thermal and tectonic stability to rapid cooling and exhumation. The slope above the break, largely a relict of a paleo-PAZ usually with significant age variation with change in elevation, can be used to quantify fault offsets. The slope below the break is steeper and represents an apparent exhumation rate. We discuss attributes and caveats for the interpretation of each part of an age-elevation profile, and provide examples from Denali in the central Alaska Range, the rift-flank Transantarctic Mountains, and the Gold Butte block of southeastern Nevada, where multiple methods reveal exhumed PAZs and PRZs in the footwall of a major detachment fault. Many factors, including exhumation rates, advection of isotherms and topographic effects on near-surface isotherms, may affect the interpretation of data. Sampling steep profiles over short-wavelength topography and parallel to structures minimises misfits between age-elevation slopes and actual exhumation histories.



PGF acknowledges research support from the Antarctic Research Centre of Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Melbourne, Syracuse University, and the National Science Foundation (Alaska, Antarctica and Gold Butte projects). PGF also thanks J. Pettinga and the Erksine Program at the University of Canterbury. Insightful and thorough reviews by Andrew Gleadow and Suzanne Baldwin and comments on various sections by Jeff Benowitz, Chilisa Shorten, and Thomas Warfel greatly improved this chapter.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly

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