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Geology and Geomorphology of the European Alps: a comparison

Sean J. Fitzsimons and Heinz Veit


The European Alps (Alps) and Southern Alps of New Zealand (Southern Alps) are both high mountain ranges formed by the collision of tectonic plates. The Alps resulted from collision of the African and European Plates, which produced complex lithological and structural patterns associated with the development of a series of overthrusted nappes. In contrast, the plate margin deformation that created the Southern Alps produced a relatively simple structural and lithological pattern dominated by a single right lateral oblique slip fault zone known as the Alpine Fault. Strong contrasts are also apparent in the contemporary rates of landscape development. The Alps currently experience modest rates of uplift and denudation because deformation along the plate boundary has slowed. High rates of compressional strain along the Alpine Fault in New Zealand result in very high rates of uplift. These processes and the position of the mountain range across the prevailing atmospheric westerly circulation system result in exceptionally high rates of denudation. Although there are strong contrasts in the lithology and structure of the Alps and Southern Alps, both experienced the growth and decay of expanded valley and piedmont glaciers during the Quaternary. The impact of multiple Quaternary ice advances has left a strong imprint on the landscapes. Both mountain ranges have particularly well-developed, over-deepened troughs and widespread glacial sediments and landforms, which heavily influence modern geomorphic processes and land use. Today numerous glaciers in both regions show strong reactions to global warming since the end of the Little Ice Age.


Fitzsimons, S. J. and Veit, H. 2001.  Geology and Geomorphology of the European Alps and the Southern Alps of New Zealand: A Comparison. Mountain Research and Development, 21 (4), 340-349. [PDF 1318kb]


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