Too young or too old: Evaluating cosmogenic exposure dating based on an analysis of compiled boulder exposure ages

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Earth and Planetary Science Letters 302,1-2 (2011) 71-80;


Cosmogenic exposure dating has greatly enhanced our ability to define glacial chronologies spanning several global cold periods, and glacial boulder exposure ages are now routinely used to constrain deglaciation ages. However, exposure dating involves assumptions about the geological history of the sample that are difficult to test and yet may have a profound effect on the inferred age. Two principal geological factors yield erroneous inferred ages: exposure prior to glaciation (yielding exposure ages that are too old) and incomplete exposure due to post-depositional shielding (yielding exposure ages that are too young). Here we show that incomplete exposure is more important than prior exposure, using datasets of glacial boulder Be-10 exposure ages from the Tibetan Plateau (1420 boulders), Northern Hemisphere palaeo-ice sheets (631 boulders), and present-day glaciers (208 boulders). No boulders from present-day glaciers and few boulders from the palaeo-ice sheets have exposure ages significantly older than independently known deglaciation ages, indicating that prior exposure is of limited significance. Further, while a simple post-depositional landform degradation model can predict the exposure age distribution of boulders from the Tibetan Plateau, a prior exposure model fails, indicating that incomplete exposure is important. The large global dataset demonstrates that, in the absence of other evidence, glacial boulder exposure ages should be viewed as minimum limiting deglaciation ages. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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