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Durham University

Department of Geography

Quaternary Fluvial Archives: The Study of Fluvial Sedimentary Records, Including Fossil Contents, in Britain and Elsewhere

Supervised by Professor David Bridgland & A.N. Other [according to dominant themes - see below]

Various research projects are available with the common theme being Quaternary fluvial records - typically river terrace sequences. DB has led international projects assembling data on such archives from around the world, the results of which have demonstrated their value as records of:

  • Quaternary climatic fluctuation;
  • Changes in fossil assemblages;
  • Changes in Palaeolithic archaeological assemblages;
  • Landscape evolution;
  • Quaternary terrestrial stratigraphy.

The types of fluvial archive vary between terraced sequences and stacked sequences in subsiding basins (the latter being more difficult to study, requiring boreholes), and between sequences representing long Quaternary timescales, such as occur outside the limits of the major Quaternary glaciations, and those representing MIS 2 deglacial and subsequent Holocene sequences.

Techniques will include:

  • Recording and analysing sediment exposures;
  • Sedimentological analyses such as particle size and, in paticular, clast lithology;
  • Mapping and surveying terrace morphostratigraphy, particularly employing differential GPS;
  • Analysis of fossils contained in fluvial sediments;
  • Analysis of archaeology contained in fluvial sediments.

Applications are invited from interested students who have particular fluvial systems in mind (MSc by research and PhD). For data on previous studies of this type see references (below) or consult

The above link leads to the homepage for the IGCP 449/518/FLAG Focus database on the Durham website, this houses summary images from published data arising from research of this type since 2000.

Research Area: Quaternary Fluvial Archives

Supervised by David Bridgland

Fit within research group(s): this type of project can be designed to link documented evidence of sea-level highstands and glaciations - topics from the dominant clusters within QEC - into terrestrial stratigraphical (and dating) frameworks (see Bridgland et al., 2004; Bridgland, 2010). According to techniques and location, topics under this general heading can also represent linkages with CHRS and, given that fluvial sequences in some regions are profoundly affected by active fault movements, with IHRR. According to methods chosen for the particular project, this will involve activities for which we are already amply equipped. Differential GPS will probably be an important resource, with a potential for use of GIS, the Coulter analyser and the source rock type-collection. There may also be a need to analyse certain fossil groups.

References and further reading

Bridgland, D.R. 2000. River terrace systems in north-west Europe: an archive of environmental change, uplift and early human occupation. Quaternary Science Reviews 19, 1293-1303.
Bridgland, D.R. 2010. The record from British Quaternary river systems within the context of global fluvial archives. Journal of Quaternary Science (in press).
Bridgland, D.R. & Westaway, R. 2007. Climatically controlled river terrace staircases: a worldwide Quaternary phenomenon. Geomorphology 98, 285-315.
Bridgland, D.R. & Westaway, R. 2007. Preservation patterns of Late Cenozoic fluvial deposits and their implications: results from IGCP 449. Quaternary International 198, 5-38.
Bridgland, D.R., Keen, D. & Westaway, R. 2007. Global correlation of Late Cenozoic fluvial deposits: a synthesis of data from IGCP 449. Quaternary Science Reviews, 26, 2694-2700. [& others in the special issue for which this is the editorial]
Bridgland, D.R., Maddy, D. & Bates, M. 2004. River terrace sequences: templates for Quaternary geochronology and marine-terrestrial correlation. Journal of Quaternary Science 19, 203-218.
Westaway, R., Bridgland, D.R., Sinha, R. & Demir, T. 2009. Fluvial sequences as evidence for landscape and climatic evolution in the Late Cenozoic: A synthesis of data from IGCP 518. Global & Planetary Change 68, 237-253.

[& others in the special issue for which this is the editorial]

Systems known to have sequences that would benefit from future research include:

  • China: The Yangtze (potential co-supervisors in China);
  • India: The rivers of the Deccan, especially as a source of Palaeolithic evidnce (potential co-supervisors M.J. White, Durham Archaeology; Sheila Mishra, Deccan College, Puna);
  • Syria: River Euphrates between the Turkish border and Dier ez Zhor;
  • Turkey: River Euphrates;
  • UK: River Trent (this would build on the work of the Aggregates Levy-funded Trent Valley Palaeolthic Project);
  • UK: River Wear and or/Tees, NE England (this would build on the work of the Aggregates Levy-funded Swale-Ure Washlands project Project).

To apply for this project please visit the How to Apply page for further information.