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River incision and migration deduced from 36Cl cosmic-ray exposure durations: The Clue de la Cerise gorge in southern French Alps

Petit, Carole, Rolland, Yann, Braucher, Régis, Bourlès, Didier, Guillou, Valery, Petitperrin, Vincent
Geomorphology 2019 v.330 pp. 81-88
Jurassic period, limestone, rivers, Alps region, France
We estimate recent (20 ka) incision and lateral migration rate on a spectacular ~N-S striking gorge cross-cutting N-dipping limestones in a fold-and-thrust belt of the external Southern French Alps. Upstream of the gorge, the river makes a right angle turn and follows the limestone surface parallel to the bedding direction (~EW). Eighteen samples were gathered along two vertical river polished profiles and three others on the denuded north-dipping surface layer, in order to determine river incision and lateral migration timing and rates. Surface age exposures of polished river cliff and bedding surface have been obtained from 36Cl cosmogenic nuclide dating and allow us to constrain the rate of vertical incision and of surface denudation of the Jurassic limestone layer. Fifteen 36Cl exposure ages have been obtained and range from ~21 ka to ~3 ka. Samples clearly define two age/height linear trends, which slopes correspond to incision rates of 1 and 0.3 mm/yr, respectively. The transition from low to high incision rate occurs at about ~12 ka, i.e. during the Younger Dryas glacial phase. Data also indicate that the vertical incision of the N-S branch of the gorge is coeval with the lateral (northward) river migration of its E-W branch associated with the denudation of the limestones surface. Extrapolating incision rates deduced from 36Cl exposure ages through time suggests that the incision of the Clue and denudation of the Jurassic limestones started about 500–600 ka ago.