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An evaluation of climate, crustal movement and base level controls on the Middle-Late Pleistocene developmet of the River Severn, UK

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Darrel Maddy


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The Pleistocene development of the lower Severn valley is recorded in the fluvial sediments of the Mathon and Severn Valley Formations and their relationship to the glacigenic Wolston (Oxygen Isotope Stage 12), Ridgacre (OIS 6) and Stockport (OIS 2) Formations. The most complete stratigraphical record is that of the Severn Valley Formation, which post-dates the Anglian Wolston Formation and comprises a flight of river terraces, the highest of which is c.50 m above the present river. The terrace staircase indicates that the Severn has progressively incised its valley during the post-Anglian period. The terrace sediments are predominantly composed of fluvially deposited sands and gravels, largely the result of deposition in high-energy rivers under cold-climate conditions. Occasionally towards the base of these terrace deposits low-energy fluvial facies are preserved which contain faunal remains and yield geochronology which support their correlation with interglacial conditions. This simple stratigraphy supports a climate-driven model for the timing of terrace aggradation and incision, with the incision mode at its most effective during the cold-warm transitions and the aggradational mode at its most effective during warm-cold climate transitions. The chronology of terrace aggradation in the lower Severn seems to correspond with the Milankovitch 100ka climate cycles. The timing of incision events suggests that base level (eustatic sea-level) changes do not play a significant role i.e. incision occurs as sea-level is rising. Although climate change is significant in governing the timing of incision, the long-term incision of the River Severn appears to be driven by crustal uplift. A long-term incision rate of 0.15 m ka-1, calculated using the base of the terrace deposits, is believed to closely equate with the long-term uplift rate. Superimposed on this long-term uplift are periods of complex terrace sequence development resulting from rapid incision during periods of glacio-isostatic rebound, with large incision events reflecting the rebound adjustment to late glacial stage isostatic depression. However, in no case in the Severn valley has glacial encroachment led to enhanced incision, suggesting that there has been no additional uplift resulting from isostatic compensation for glacial erosion.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Maddy D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Geologie en Mijnbouw/Netherlands Journal of Geosciences

Year: 2002

Volume: 81

Issue: 3-4

Pages: 329-338

Print publication date: 01/12/2002

ISSN (print): 0016-7746

ISSN (electronic):