The deposits of the Pliocene—Quaternary foredeep of the Northern Apennine cover at present an area of 103000 km2. The original boundaries of the basin are not known, since marginal deposits have been eroded, in particular those of the inner, southwestern border. During Pliocene times the basin area was reduced by thrust tectonics and the amount of shortening may be tentatively estimated.
The present volume of Pliocene and Quaternary sediments may be inferred with good approximation from the maps of the base of the Pliocene and of the Quaternary (base of the Hyalinea balthica Zone) successions. The Pliocene volume has been corrected adding the estimate of the underthrust sediments, while no correction has been attempted for the eroded marginal deposits. The estimates of 97000 and 95000km3. reflecting the present volume of the Pliocene and Quaternary deposits, are therefore significantly less than the volumes originally deposited.
Present volumes have been transformed in ‘net’ (0% porosity) volumes, in order to obtain the relative net supply rates: 0.021 (Pliocene) and 0.047 (Quaternary) km3/a. Other unmeasurable factors (volume variations due to the weathering of silicates, loss of leached carbonates) may induce a probably unimportant underestimate of the supply rates.
Available data allow an approximate estimate of the range of the net volume of the Holocene sediments deposited during the last 6000 a BP (221–276km3) and of the relative net supply rate (0.037–0.046km3/a), that is not significantly different from the Quaternary one. Applying a porosity correction, these supply rates may be related to the Quaternary source area (128000km2) to obtain the relative denudation rates: 0.41–0.46mm/a (Quaternary) and 0.36–0.51 mm/a (Holocene). Present supply and denudation rates, deduced from the direct measurements of the bed load and suspended load of the apenninic and alpine rivers, do not differ significantly from the Quaternary and Holocene ones.
Available data do not allow a reliable estimate of the Pliocene source area, and consequently of the Pliocene denudation rate. However, a minimum of 160000–177 000 km3 has been eroded during Pliocene and Quaternary times. Assuming, as a working hypothesis, that the Pliocene source area did not significantly differ from the present one, an average thickness of 1240–1390 m could have been eroded since the beginning of Pliocene. This estimate is in agreement with the values obtained from the measurements of coalification of vegetal organic matter in the outcrops, and suggests that post-orogenic successions and ‘higher’ thrust sheets may have been completely removed in vast areas.