Appalachian Piedmont landscapes from the Permian to the Holocene




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Between the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers and from the Blue Ridge to the Fall Zone, landscapes of the Piedmont are illustrated for times in the Holocene, Late Wisconsin, Early Miocene, Early Cretaceous, Late Triassic, and Permian. Landscape evolution took place in tectonic settings marked by major plate collisions (Permian), arching and rifting (Late Triassic) and development of the Atlantic passive margin by sea floor spreading (Early Cretaceous). Erosion proceeded concurrently with tectonic uplift and continued after cessation of major tectonic activity. Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf sediments record three major erosional periods: (1) Late Triassic-Early Jurassic; (2) Late Jurassic-Early Cretaceous; and (3) Middle Miocene-Holocene. The Middle Miocene-Holocene pulse is related to neotectonic activity and major climatic fluctuations. In the Piedmont upland the Holocene landscape is interpreted as an upland surface of low relief undergoing dissection. Major rivers and streams are incised into a landscape on which the landforms show a delicate adjustment to rock lithologies. The Fall Zone has apparently evolved from a combination of warping, faulting, and differential erosion since Late Miocene. The periglacial environment of the Late Wisconsin (and earlier glacial epochs) resulted in increased physical erosion and reduced chemical weathering. Even with lowered saprolitization rates, geochemical modeling suggests that 80 m or more of saprolite may have formed since Late Miocene. This volume of saprolite suggests major erosion of upland surfaces and seemingly contradicts available field evidence. Greatly subdued relief characterized the Early Miocene time, near the end of a prolonged interval of tropical morphogenesis. The ancestral Susquehanna and Potomac Rivers occupied approximately their present locations. In Early Cretaceous time local relief may have been as much as 900 m, and a major axial river draining both the Piedmont and Appalachians flowed southeast past Baltimore. The Late Triassic landscape was influenced by rift basin development. Streams drained into a hydrologically closed basin: no through-flowing rivers seem to have been present. A limestone escarpment along the Blue Ridge may have existed as a consequence of a semi-arid climate. The Permian may have been a time of Himalayan-like mountains and mountain glaciers. Streams (and glaciers) generally flowed southwest and west. ?? 1989.

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Appalachian Piedmont landscapes from the Permian to the Holocene
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