Document Type



Master of Science


Earth and Environmental Sciences

First Adviser

Pazzaglia, Frank J.

Other advisers/committee members

Peters, Stephen; Rittenour, Tammy


River terraces are fluvial landforms that represent flood plains abandoned through river incision and, when accurately correlated and dated, can serve as paleogeodetic markers, indicating the elevation and location of past channels and the subsequent fluvial and tectonic processes shaping the landscape. Fluvial terraces are most useful when the incision processes that caused their abandonment and formation are better understood. This thesis studies river incision reconstructed from fluvial terraces of the South Anna River in the central Virginia Piedmont, USA. The South Anna River flows directly above an active fault, on which large, but infrequent seismic events have occurred, and the most recent event was the 23 August 2011 Mineral earthquake. Two conceptual incision models are tested to better understand the fluvial response to active tectonics in this region: 1) spatially-uniform vertical incision and 2) diachronous horizontal knickpoint retreat. Here, terraces and incision were evaluated in the context of a 1:24,000 scale surficial map of alluvial deposits, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and infrared luminescence (IRSL) geochronology, and knickpoint celerity modeling. The South Anna River and its tributaries traverse across the geologic, topographic and structural grain of central Virginia Piedmont, USA, a region known for Late Cenozoic base-level fall, high amplitude climate changes, and historic seismicity. Litho- and pedostratigraphically correlative deposits are found to form five groups of terraces (Qt1-Qt5) with similar, but not exact relative elevations above modern channel. Within these groups, the terraces have similar OSL/IRSL ages that do not systematically decrease in age upstream towards knickpoint in the modern channel. Similarly, the modeled rate of knickpoint retreat through the South Anna channel of ~7-14km/Ma is too slow to explain the time-transgressive OSL/IRSL dates for any terrace group. Terrace formation by knickpoint migration and horizontal floodplain abandonment is rejected as a dominant process in terrace formation, in favor of more spatially-uniform vertical incision. In this landscape, the OSL/IRSL results suggest that flood plains are widened and then are abandoned and become terraces as the South Anna channel responds to climatically-driven unsteady changes in discharge and sediment yield. The complex age-elevation relationships of terraces proximal to epicenter of the 23 August 2011 Mineral earthquake argue for a terrace correlation that allows for rock uplift consistent with the co-seismic response of the 2011 Mineral earthquake.