Tectonic plate corners are hotspots for high rates of continental deformation and erosion, and associated with human-relevant hazards including poorly understood earthquakes, destructive landslides, and extreme climate. A better understanding of continental deformation can mitigate these hazards. However, the coupling between climate and tectonic interactions at plate corners is a key unknown and the focus of this study. Our recent work, published in international journals including Science and Nature, quantifies mountain building and climate change and provides a baseline for an innovative study of plate corner dynamics.

This project challenges the geoscience ‘tectonic aneurysm’ paradigm that rapid deformation and erosion at plate corners is initiated from the “top down” by localized precipitation, and erosion. Rather, we hypothesize that these processes are:

  1. initiated from the “bottom up” by the 3D geometry of the subducting plate; and

  2. require a threshold rate of both “bottom up” deformation and surface erosion to initiate a feedback between climate and tectonics.

We propose, for the first time, a holistic modeling and data collection approach that quantifies the temporal and spatial evolution of all aspects of plate corner evolution, including: 3D thermomechanical modeling of plate corner deformation and uplift for different plate geometries; Atmospheric modeling to quantify the climate response to evolving topography, a topic spearheaded by my research group; And surface process modeling to close the loop and couple the atmospheric and mechanical models. Model predictions will be vetted against observed deformation and erosion histories from existing and new cosmogenic isotope and thermochronometer data from end-member locations including the Himalaya, Alaskan, Olympic, and Andean plate corners. EXTREME will produce a globally integrated atmospheric and solid Earth understanding of continental deformation, a task only possible at the scale of an ERC grant.