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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Bridgland, D.R. & Westaway, R. Quaternary fluvial archives and landscape evolution: a global synthesis. Proceedings of the geologists' Association. 2014;125:600-629.

Author(s) from Durham


Late Cenozoic (and especially Quaternary) fluvial deposits and related landforms provide
valuable information about landscape evolution, not just in terms of changing drainage patterns but
also documenting changes in topography and relief. Recently compiled records from river systems
worldwide have shed much light on this subject, particularly records of terrace sequences, although
other types of fluvial archive can be equally informative. Terraces are especially valuable if they can be
dated with reference to biostratigraphy, geochronology or by other means. The various data
accumulated support the hypothesis that the incision observed from river terraces has been a response
to progressive uplift during the Late Cenozoic. This has not occurred everywhere, however. Stacked
fluvial sequences have formed in subsiding depocentres and have greater potential for surviving to
become part of the longer-term geological record. More enigmatic are regions in the ancient cores of
continents (cratons), which show little indication of sustained uplift or subsidence, with fluvial
deposits of various ages occurring within a restricted range of elevation with respect to the valley floor.
In areas of dynamic crust that were glaciated during the Last Glacial Maximum post-glacial river
valleys are typically incised and often terraced in a similar way to valleys on post-Precambrian crust
elsewhere, although the terraces and gorges in these systems are very much younger (~15 ka) and
therefore the processes have been considerably more rapid. This paper is illustrated with various
case-study examples of these different types of archives and discusses the implications of each for
regional landscape evolution.

Department of Geography