Catastrophic geomorphic events are taken as those that are large, sudden, and rare on human timescales. In the nonglaciated, low-seismicity central Appalachians, these are dominantly floods and landslides. Evaluation of the role of catastrophic events in landscape evolution includes assessment of their contributions to denudation and formation of prominent landscape features, and how they vary through space and time. Tropical storm paths and topographic barriers at the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Front create significant climatic variability across the Appalachians. For moderate floods, the influence of basin geology is apparent in modifying severity of flooding, but for the most extreme events, flood discharges relate mainly to rainfall characteristics such as intensity, duration, storm size, and location. Landslide susceptibility relates more directly to geologic controls that determine what intensity and duration of rainfall will trigger slope instability. Large floods and landslides are not necessarily effective in producing prominent geomorphic features. Large historic floods in the Piedmont have been minimally effective in producing prominent and persistent geomorphic features. In contrast, smaller floods in the Valley and Ridge produced erosional and depositional features that probably will require thousands of years to efface. Scars and deposits of debris slide-avalanches triggered on sandstone ridges recover slowly and persist much longer than scars and deposits of smaller landslides triggered on finer-grained regolith, even though the smaller landslides may have eroded greater aggregate volume. The surficial stratigraphic record can be used to extend the spatial and temporal limits of our knowledge of catastrophic events. Many prominent alluvial and colluvial landforms in the central Appalachians are composed of sediments that were deposited by processes similar to those observed in historic catastrophic events. Available stratigraphic evidence shows two scales of temporal variation: one related to Quaternary climate changes and a more-recent, higher-frequency variation due to rare events during the Holocene. In much of the central Appalachians, landforms related to Quaternary climate changes persist as the most prominent features, despite the modifying effects of late-Holocene catastrophic events. ?? 1989.
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The role of catastrophic geomorphic events in central Appalachian landscape evolution