Articles | Volume 2, issue 1
Research article
28 Jan 2014
Research article |  | 28 Jan 2014

A linear inversion method to infer exhumation rates in space and time from thermochronometric data

M. Fox, F. Herman, S. D. Willett, and D. A. May

Abstract. We present a formal inverse procedure to extract exhumation rates from spatially distributed low temperature thermochronometric data. Our method is based on a Gaussian linear inversion approach in which we define a linear problem relating exhumation rate to thermochronometric age with rates being parameterized as variable in both space and time. The basis of our linear forward model is the fact that the depth to the "closure isotherm" can be described as the integral of exhumation rate, ..., from the cooling age to the present day. For each age, a one-dimensional thermal model is used to calculate a characteristic closure temperature, and is combined with a spectral method to estimate the conductive effects of topography on the underlying isotherms. This approximation to the four-dimensional thermal problem allows us to calculate closure depths for data sets that span large spatial regions. By discretizing the integral expressions into time intervals we express the problem as a single linear system of equations. In addition, we assume that exhumation rates vary smoothly in space, and so can be described through a spatial correlation function. Therefore, exhumation rate history is discretized over a set of time intervals, but is spatially correlated over each time interval. We use an a priori estimate of the model parameters in order to invert this linear system and obtain the maximum likelihood solution for the exhumation rate history. An estimate of the resolving power of the data is also obtained by computing the a posteriori variance of the parameters and by analyzing the resolution matrix. The method is applicable when data from multiple thermochronometers and elevations/depths are available. However, it is not applicable when there has been burial and reheating. We illustrate our inversion procedure using examples from the literature.