An episode of rapid bedrock channel incision during the last glacial cycle, measured with 10Be

American Journal of Science
By: , and 



We use 10Be to infer when, how fast, and why the Susquehanna River incised through bedrock along the U.S. Atlantic seaboard, one of the world's most prominent and ancient passive margins. Although the rate at which large rivers incise rock is a fundamental control on the development of landscapes, relatively few studies have directly measured how quickly such incision occurs either in tectonically active environments or along passive margins. Exposure ages of fluvially carve d, bedrock strath terraces, preserved along the lower Susquehanna River, demonstrate that even along a passive margin, large rivers are capable of incising through rock for short periods of time at rates approaching those recorded in tectonically active regions, such as the Himalayas. Over eighty samples, collected along and between three prominent levels of strath terraces within Holtwood Gorge, indicate that the Susquehanna River incised more than 10 meters into the Appalachian Piedmont during the last glacial cycle. Beginning ???36 ka, incision rates increased dramatically, and remained elevated until ???14 ka. The northern half of the Susquehanna basin was glaciated during the late Wisconsinan; however, similar rates and timing of incision occurred in the unglaciated Potomac River basin immediately to the south. The concurrence of incision periods on both rivers suggests that glaciation and associated meltwater were not the primary drivers of incision. Instead, it appears that changing climatic conditions during the late Pleistocene promoted an increase in the frequency and magnitude of flood events capable of exceeding thresholds for rock detachment and bedrock erosion, thus enabling a short-lived episode of rapid incision into rock. Although this study has constraine d the timing and rate of bedrock incision along the largest river draining the Atlantic passive margin, the dates alone cannot explain fully why, or by what processes, this incision occurred. However, cosmogenic dating offers compelling evidence that episodes of rapid incision into bedrock are tied to glacial cycles and changes in global climate. These results, and the methods we employ, provide valuable insights into the nature of bedrock channel incision, not only along the Susquehanna River and passive margins, but also across a wide range of settings around the globe. Because river incision into bedrock transmits the effects of changing climate and tectonics through fluvial networks to hillslopes, comprehending when, where, and why rivers incise has important implications for the evolution of landscapes.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title An episode of rapid bedrock channel incision during the last glacial cycle, measured with 10Be
Series title American Journal of Science
DOI 10.2475/ajs.306.2.69
Volume 306
Issue 2
Year Published 2006
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title American Journal of Science
First page 69
Last page 102
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page