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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Westaway, R.C., Bridgland, D.R. & White, M.J. The Quaternary uplift history of central southern England: evidence from the terraces of the Solent River system and nearby raised beaches. Quaternary Science Reviews. 2006;25:2212-2250.

Author(s) from Durham


We have used fluvial (Solent River system) and marine terraces to reconstruct the uplift history of central southern England. In the case of the former, we make the assumption that fluvial incision has been a direct response to surface uplift, with its precise timing controlled by climatic forcing of fluvial activity, such that height of terrace gravel above modern river is a consequence of uplift since deposition. In the case of the marine sequence, we take the height of interglacial raised beaches above a calculated contemporaneous sea-level as a measure of uplift, the calculation involving an adjustment from modern sea-level using the deep oceanic oxygen isotope signal as an indication of global ice volume at the time of deposition.

This exercise requires some degree of dating constraint, which is problematic for both environments. The Solent terraces have yielded little biostratigraphical evidence, whereas the south coast raised beaches have either been poorly exposed in recent years or their ages have been controversial because of disputes between biostratigraphy and geochronological data. We have supplemented the evidence available from these sources by using key aspects of the archaeological record as dating constraints, in particular the first appearances of Levallois technique (a marker for MIS 9-8) and of bout coupé handaxes (MIS 3). The first of these has been particularly useful in modelling of the Middle Pleistocene parts of the river terrace staircases of the Solent system.

In undertaking this reappraisal, we have noted several inconsistencies and disagreements between past correlation schemes for the terraces of the Solent and its various tributaries. We find that versions involving shallower downstream gradients in the main Solent River are most likely to be correct and that revisions on this basis solve a number of problems in interpretation encountered previously. Our results show that most of this region has uplifted by 70 m since the late Early Pleistocene and by 150 m since the Middle Pliocene, there being a high degree of consistency between uplift histories inferred for river terraces and marine terraces. Uplift rates increase gradually westward, such that along the River Frome at the western end of the Hampshire Basin 80 m of uplift since the late Early Pleistocene is indicated. This variation is interpreted as a consequence of a regional-scale variation in crustal properties. About 80 m of uplift is also indicated on this timescale by raised beaches in the Portsdown area and adjacent terraces of the River Test and Solent in the vicinity of the Portsdown anticline to the north of Southampton. We interpret this as a consequence of 10 m of vertical slip in the past million years on the blind reverse fault beneath this anticline. This dataset thus provides the first clear indication of measurable Quaternary structural development in crustal basement in the onshore UK.

The Solent has formed more than a single terrace per 100 ka Milankovitch cycle, leading us to attribute terraces to isotopic substages, potentially improving upon the resolution available from sequences in which terraces formed once per cycle. Athough the first appearence of Levallois technique was initially considered to date from the MIS 9-8 transition, based on evidence from the Thames, we found that there was a better modelling fit if this was taken as having occurred slightly earlier, in MIS 9b, perhaps in association with the post-MIS 9e or 9c marine regression, which could have permitted immigration into a previously insular Britain of people versed in Levallois technology.

Department of Geography