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The River Rhine and its tributaries represent one of the largest drainage systems in Europe. Its prominence among other fluvial systems is due to the location of its headwaters within the central Swiss Alps, which were repeatedly glaciated during the Quaternary, and the concurrence of major parts of the River Rhine course with the European Cenozoic Rift System. Sediments of the Rhine have thus recorded both changes in climate and tectonic activity as well as sea level change in the lower part of the river course.
The River Rhine is composed of different subdivisions characterised by distinct geographical and geological settings. Vorder-and Hinterrhein in the headwaters are inner-alpine rivers frequently influenced in their course by tectonic lines and the blockage of valley floors by the deposits of mass movements. The Alpenrhein is located in a main Alpine valley that drains into a large foreland basin, the Bodensee (Lake Constance). The Hochrhein flows out of the lake following the Jura Mountains in a western direction. All these areas display a series of geological features such as moraine ridges and outwash plains, which directly reflect Quaternary glaciations of the Alps. The Oberrhein (Upper Rhine) Valley, as a graben structure, is part of the rifting system that started to develop during the middle Tertiary. The northern end of the graben is represented by the triple junction of the Mainz Basin, which is mainly characterised by the remains of marine transgressions that occurred during the initial rifting phase. The Rhine continues following the western branch of the tectonic system by passing through the Rhenish Massif. Uplift in this so-called Mittelrhein (Middle Rhine) area is well documented by a flight of late Tertiary to Quaternary river terraces. This region is also characterised by young volcanic activity as found, for example, in the Eifel volcanic field. The Niederheinische Bucht (Lower Rhine Embayment), especially the Roer Valley Rift System, represents the northern continuation of the rifting system. This area is characterised by differential uplift in the southern and subsidence in the northern part of the basin, which continues into the Netherlands. Here, the main stream of the River Rhine is separated into different branches developing an active delta at the coast of the North Sea. When the North Sea Basin was covered by ice during the Elsterian, Saalian and probably also the Weichselian glaciation and global sea level was low, the Rhine continued its course through the English Channel and flowed into the North Atlantic off Brittany.
The aim of this paper is to reconstruct the evolution of the early to middle Holocene Rhine-Meuse river mouths in the western Netherlands and to understand the observed spatial and temporal changes in facies. This is achieved by constructing three delta wide cross-sections using a newly accumulated database with thousands of core descriptions and cone penetration test results, together with a large set of pollen/diatom analyses and OSL/14C-dates. Most of the studied deposits accumulated in the fluvial-to-marine transition zone, a highly complex area due to the interaction of terrestrial and marine processes. Understanding how the facies change within this zone, is necessary to make correct palaeogeographic interpretations.
We find a well preserved early to middle Holocene coastal prism resting on lowstand valley floors. Aggradation started after 9 ka cal BP as a result of rapid sea-level rise. Around 8 ka most parts of the study area were permanently flooded and under tidal influence. After 8 ka a bay-head delta was formed near Delft, meaning that little sand could reach the North Sea. Several subsequent avulsions resulted in a shift from the constantly retreating Rhine river mouth to the north. When after 6.5 ka the most northerly river course was formed (Oude Rijn), the central part of the palaeovalley was quickly transgressed and transformed into a large tidal basin. Shortly before 6 ka retrogradation of the coastline halted and tidal inlets began to close, marking the end of the early-middle Holocene transgression.
This paper describes the transition from a fluvial valley to an estuary in unprecedented detail and enables more precise palaeo-reconstructions, evaluation of relative importance of fluvial and coastal processes in rapid transgressed river mouths, and more accurate sediment-budget calculations. The described and well illustrated (changes in) facies are coupled to lithogenetic units. This will aid detailed palaeogeographic interpretations from sedimentary successions, not only in the Netherlands, but also in other estuarine and deltaic regions.
The Pliocene and Quaternary unconsolidated sediments of the Upper Rhine Graben (URG) were petrographically analysed in numerous high quality drill cores. The heavy mineral composition of the Graben sediments was compared to those from the Graben margins. In addition, the sedimentary lithofacies were investigated. The chronological classification of the sedimentary successions was established by the interpretation of sporadic palaeontological and palaeomagnetic data.
Within the Pliocene sediments, two distinguishable heavy mineral assemblages indicate different source areas of the Graben fill. At first, a heavy mineral assemblage of stable minerals (turmaline, zircon and anatase) indicates a contribution of debris supplied from Buntsandstein areas at the Graben margins. Secondly, a mixed association of stable minerals in combination with unstable (garnet, hornblende, less epidote) and distinct rare minerals (e.g. monazite, xenotime) can be traced back to debris derived from the crystalline rocks of the southern Graben margins (Black Forest, Vosges). The distribution of sediments with this mixed heavy mineral assemblage proves the fluvial sediment transport from south to north and therefore the course of the Pliocene proto-Rhine along the Graben.
The correlation between the Quaternary sediment successions in the south and the north of the Graben is problematic due to their variable thicknesses as well as their changing lithofacies.
In the southern URG, the Quaternary strata could be subdivided into the older Breisgau Formation and the younger Neuenburg Formation based on characteristic lithofacies. Within this succession, the lower part of the Breisgau Formation (lower Breisgau beds) can be distinguished by noticeable lower contents of hornblende, which probably reflects the effects of weathering and solution of these unstable minerals due to repeated discontinuities during the sediment accumulation. The sediments of the upper part of the Breisgau Formation (upper Breisgau beds) and of the Neuenburg Formation contain a heavy mineral assemblage of garnet, epidote and hornblende, which is typical for Rhine deposits with Alpine contribution. This probably unaffected composition indicates a more unvaried and rapid accumulation of predominantly Alpine debris. In the northern URG, the Quaternary strata are subdivided into three aquifers and intercalated fine-grained horizons. Here, the Quaternary sediments can be petrographically classified into Rhine deposits (garnet, epidote and hornblende) and local accumulations contributed from the Graben margins (turmaline, zircon and anatase) without contemporaneous influence of the Rhine. The analytical results obtained from several drill cores in the northern URG provide evidence for the spatial and temporal variability of the course of the Rhine during the Quaternary.
The Holocene Rhine-Meuse delta is formed under the influence of sea-level rise, tectonics, and variations in discharge and sediment supply. This paper aims to determine the relative importance of these external controls to improve our understanding of the evolution of the Rhine-Meuse fluvio-deltaic system. To do this, the geological and lithological composition of the fluvio-deltaic wedge has to be known in detail, both in space and time. This study presents five cross-valley sections in the Holocene Rhine-Meuse delta, based on almost 2000 shallow borings. Over 130 14C dates provide detailed time control and are used to draw time lines in the sections. Distinct spatio-temporal trends in the composition of the Holocene fluvio-deltaic wedge were found. In the upstream delta, the Holocene succession is characterised by stacked channel belts encased in clastic flood basin deposits through which several palaeo-A-horizon levels are traceable. In a downstream direction, the fluvio-deltaic wedge thickens from 3 to 7 m. The Holocene succession in the downstream cross sections formed from <8000 cal yr BP onwards and is characterised by single channel belts encased in organic flood basin deposits. The main part of the organic beds accumulated between 6000 and 3000 cal yr BP. After 3000 cal yr BP, clastic deposition dominated throughout the delta, indicating an increase in the area of clastic sedimentation. The Holocene fluvio-deltaic wedge is subdivided into three segments based on the relative importance of eustatic sea-level rise, subsidence, and upstream controls (discharge and sediment supply). Before 5000 cal yr BP, eustatic sea-level rise controlled the build-up of the wedge. After eustatic sea-level rise ceased, subsidence was dominant from 5000 to 3000 cal yr BP. From 3000 cal yr BP onwards, increased sediment supply and discharge from the hinterland controlled the formation of the fluvio-deltaic wedge. A significant part of the present-day Rhine-Meuse fluvio-deltaic wedge aggraded after eustatic sea-level rise ceased. We therefore conclude that external controls other than eustatic sea-level rise were also of major importance for the formation of the fluvio-deltaic wedge. Because this is probably true for other aggrading fluvial systems at continental margins as well, all external controls should be addressed to when interpreting (ancient) fluvio-deltaic successions.
Minerals are the building blocks of clastic sediments and play an important role with respect to the physico-chemical properties of the sediment and the lithostratigraphy of sediments. This paper aims to provide an overview of the mineralogy (including solid organic matter) of sediments as well as suspended matter as found in the Netherlands (and some parts of Belgium). The work is based on a review of the scientific literature published over more than 100 years. Cenozoic sediments are addressed together with suspended matter and recent sediments of the surface water systems because they form a geoscientific continuum from material subject to transport via recently settled to aged material. Most attention is paid to heavy minerals, clay minerals, feldspars, Ca carbonates, reactive Fe minerals (oxides, siderite, sulphides, glauconite) and solid organic matter because they represent the dominant minerals and their properties form a main issue in subsurface and water management. When possible and relevant, the amounts, provenance, relationship with grain size distribution, early diagenesis and palaeohydrological evolution are described. Tables with statistical data about the mineral contents and isotopic composition of carbonates and organic matter are presented as overviews. The review on the mineralogy of Dutch fluvial and marine environments is more extensive than that for the other sedimentary environments because the first two have been studied much more intensively than the others and they also form the larger part of the Dutch deposits. The focus is on the natural background mineralogy of Dutch sediments, but this is hard for recent sediments, largely because the massive hydraulic infrastructure present in the Netherlands has probably also affected the mineralogy and geochemistry of sediments deposited in recent centuries. Many findings are summarised, several of which lead to more general insights for the Dutch situation. Ca carbonates in sediments often have several provenances and thus must be considered as mixtures. Dolomite is commonly present in addition to calcite. The importance of biotite as weatherable mica is unclear. Weathering of heavy minerals plays some role but it is unclear in which way it affects the heavy mineral associations. Clays are usually dominated by illite, smectite and their interstratified variant, while kaolinite is usually below 20% and chlorite below 5%. Vermiculite is a minor constituent in fluvial clays and its illitisation presumably happens during early diagenesis in the marine environment. Opaque Fe hydroxides can be present in addition to Fe oxyhydroxide coatings and both will play a role in redox chemistry as reactive Fe minerals. Feldspars in marine sediments must be present but they have not been properly studied. The genesis of rattle stones and carbonate concretions has not been completely elucidated. The fraction of terrigeneous organic matter in estuarine and coastal marine sediments is substantial. The available data and information are spread irregularly over the country and the reviewed information discussed in this paper is derived from relatively small-scale studies dealing with a limited amount of analysed samples. Much information is available from the Scheldt estuaries in the southwestern part of the Netherlands partly due to the severe contamination of the Western Scheldt in recent decades.
Eight continuous corings in the west-central Netherlands show a 15 to 25 m thick stacked sequence of sandy to gravelly channel-belt deposits of the Rhine-Meuse system. This succession of fluvial sediments was deposited under net subsiding conditions in the southern part of the North Sea Basin and documents the response of the Rhine-Meuse river system to climate and sea-level change and to the glaciation history. On the basis of grain size characteristics, sedimentological structures, nature and extent of bounding surfaces and palaeo-ecological data, the sequence was subdivided into five fluvial units, an estuarine and an aeolian unit. Optical dating of 34 quartz samples showed that the units have intra Saalian to Weichselian ages (Marine Isotope Stages 8 to 2). Coarse-grained fluvial sediments primarily deposited under cold climatic conditions, with low vegetation cover and continuous permafrost. Finer-grained sediments generally deposited during more temperate climatic conditions with continuous vegetation cover and/or periods of sea-level highstand. Most of the sedimentary units are bounded by unconformities that represent erosion during periods of climate instability, sea-level fall and/or glacio-isostatic uplift.
The Plio-Pleistocene succession in the Lower Rhine Embayment was subjected to a thorough revision of existing stratigraphic concepts. The deposits were studied at key sites in the type area near Venlo and in the large open-cast mine Hambach in the southern part of the Lower Rhine Embayment by means of sedimentological, petrographical, as well as palaeo- and rockmagnetic methods.
The work has yielded improved insights of the drainage pattern and the Late Pliocene and Early Pleistocene depositional history of the region. As a result, a new comprehensive lithostratigraphical framework has been established.
Study of the succession at Hambach showed the occurrence of deposits of the Rhine, Meuse and a local river in the Lower Pleistocene part of the succession. Paleo- and rockmagnetic studies of the deposits marking the transition from Pliocene to Pleistocene indicate that the Gauss-Matuyama magnetic reversal occurs several meters above the top of the Reuver Clay at Hambach.
The study of the Lower Pleistocene succession in the type area has confirmed the recently new established lithostratigraphic framework of the Netherlands. As a consequence, the previous Dutch lithostratigraphic system which forms the basis of the chronostratigraphic subdivision of the Pliocene and Early Pleistocene of NW Europe has been proven to be inappropriate and should be abandoned. This chronostratigraphic framework is based on the interpretation of palynological data and was first established in the Netherlands during the 1960s. The new lithostratigraphic concept has revealed numerous contradictions with the chronostratigraphic framework. Based on these results it is proposed to abandon the chronostratigraphic subdivision of the Early Pleistocene in northwestern Europe.
This paper aims to provide a synthesis and update concerning the fluvial terraces of the rivers flowing from the Vosges Massif (Moselle and palaeo Upper-Moselle-Meuse, Meurthe, Sarre). The terraces of these rivers are especially well-developed in the marly depressions of the Eastern Paris Basin, justifying an extensive field mapping expedition. The main rivers exhibit terrace staircases with 8 to 13 stepped terrace steps within 100m of the present valley floor. The fluvial sediments mainly originate from the Vosges Massif (crystalline basement and Permo-Triassic sandstones and conglomerates). Another peculiarity of the study area is the presence of several palaeovalleys, typically related to fluvial capture events which occurred to the detriment of the River Meuse. Many palaeomeanders have also been recognised in the Paris Basin (Meuse catchment), and the Rhenish Massif (Moselle and Sarre valleys). Despite some similarities, palaeoenvironmental reconstructions provide evidence for the terrace staircases being distinct from one valley / section of valley to another. These differences are related to the morphostructural framework and to the climate forcing (presence/absence of glaciers in the upper catchment of the rivers). The chronological framework suggests that the terrace sequences and the main capture events may be older than previously thought.
Special section: PAGES Symposium, Amsterdam, 3 November 2000
Approximately 200,000 lithological borehole descriptions, 1200 14C dates, 36,000 dated archaeological artifacts, and gradients of palaeochannels were used to reconstruct the Holocene evolution of the fluvial part of the Rhine-Meuse delta. Ages of all Holocene channel belts were stored in a Geographical Information System database that enables generation of palaeogeographic maps for any time during the Holocene. The time resolution of the palaeogeographic reconstruction is about 200 years.
During the Holocene, avulsion was an important process, resulting in frequent shifts of areas of clastic sedimentation. Palaeogeographic evolution and avulsion history of the Rhine-Meuse delta are governed by complex interactions among several factors. These are: (1) Location and shape of the Late Weichselian palaeovalley. In the Early Holocene, rivers were confined to the LateWeichselian valley. When aggradation shifted upstream, the margins of the valley were crossed by newly formed channel belts. (2) Sealevel rise, which resulted in back-filling of the palaeovalley. (3) River channel pattern. In the central-western part of the delta, a straight anastomosed channel pattern with large-scale crevassing developed as a result of sealevel rise and the associated decrease of stream power. (4) Neotectonics. Differential tectonic movements of the Peel Horst and Roer Valley Graben seem to have influenced river behaviour (formation of an asymmetrical meander belt, location of avulsion nodes in fault zones), especially from 4500–2800 14C yr BP when the rate of sealevel rise had decreased. After 2800 14C yr BP sealevel rise further decreased, and tectonic influence still may have influenced avulsions, but from then on other factors became dominant. (5) Increased discharge, sediment load and/or within-channel sedimentation. After 2800 14C yr BP, meander wavelenghts increased, which is interpreted as a result of increased bankfull discharge and/or within channel sedimentation. After 2000 14C yr BP both discharge and sediment load increased as a result of human influence. (6) Coastal configuration. The limited number of tidal inlets and extensive peat formation restricted the number of avulsions in the western part of the delta, and enhanced channel reoccupation. (7) Composition of the substrate and river banks. Meandering river channels tended to adhere to the sandy margins of the LateWeichselian palaeovalley, and high channel sinuosity is found in areas where river banks consisted of sand. Peat formation, which was most extensive in the western part of the back-barrier area especially between 4000 and 3000 14C yr BP, more or less fixed the river pattern at that time, hampering avulsions. (8) Marine ingressions, e.g. the 1421 AD St. Elizabeth’s flood caused large-scale erosion in the southwestern part of the fluvial deltaic plain, resulting in a shift of the main drainage to the SW. (9) Human influence. Since about 1100 AD human influence dominated the palaeogeographic evolution. Rivers were embanked and natural avulsions did no longer occur.
The fluvial history of the northern Lower Rhine Embayment shows interplay of three main river systems: Rhine, Meuse and smaller rivers draining the central and northern part of Belgium.
The Pliocene and Early Pleistocene (pre-)Rhine and Meuse river systems had their conjunction in the southern part of the Roer Valley Graben between Aachen and Jülich. Despite slight differences in the heavy-mineral assemblages the lithological composition of the Pliocene deposits of the three river systems shows close resemblance and therefore they cannot be mapped separately. However, due to a marked change of the petrographical composition the Upper Pliocene and Lower Pleistocene deposits of the Rhine are easily recognised and as a result Rhine and Meuse deposits can be mapped separately upstream of their confluence.
The Lower Pleistocene deposits of Rhine, Meuse and the Belgian rivers show a clear interrelationship. They are bounded by two regional well-mapable unconformities and are preserved in from west to east changing lithostratigraphical sequences. Revision of the lithostratigraphical schemes in Germany and the Netherlands and the better defined lithostratigraphical position of Meuse deposits in Germany now strongly constrain the correlation of the various fluvial deposits. As a result existing reconstructions of the fluvial deposition and tectonic history of the southern Roer Valley Graben can be evaluated and re-adjusted.
It is concluded that the main course of the Meuse was aligned through the so-called East Meuse valley during the larger part of the Early Pleistocene. Available pollen data do not conflict with this conclusion. At the same time the Rhine ceased to enter the southern part of the Roer Valley Graben. Instead, the Meuse accumulated here a series of deposits derived from the East-Meuse valley. Simultaneously, the Belgian rivers filled available accommodation space in the Roer Valley Graben of the southern Netherlands. The conclusions are based primarily on the revised lithostratigraphical framework. In general they simplify the picture of fluvial and tectonic behaviour of the area.
During the Pleistocene the drainage pattern in the Lower Rhine Basin changed twice, from a flooding of the whole basin by the river Rhine from SW to NE to an influence restricted to the NE only.
The first dominance of the river Rhine is documented from the Reuverian to the Tiglian, the second one in the Cromerian. In between this time, the Meuse River drained the central Lower Rhine Basin in NE direction. For the sediments of that river, the term ‘Holzweiler Formation’ is introduced. Since the Late Cromerian, the influence of the Rhine is again restricted to the NE of the Lower Rhine Basin. The central part of the basin is drained by small local rivers.
Alluvial architecture has been subject of many studies because of the occurrence of natural resources in ancient fluvial successions. This paper provides an overview of the current state of research on alluvial architecture with special reference to Holocene fluvio-deltaic settings. Several examples from modern fluvio-deltaic areas, especially the Holocene Rhine-Meuse delta (the Netherlands) and the Lower Mississippi Valley (U.S.A.), are used to illustrate the architectural elements that can be distinguished in fluvial successions and to show the influence of the various controls on alluvial architecture (base level, climate, tectonism, aggradation, avulsion, and compaction). Avulsion is regarded as a principal process in the formation of fluvio-deltaic sequences, because it determines the location and number of active channels on the floodplain. The avulsion mechanism is still subject of debate, though. A brief description of the evolution of process-based alluvial-architecture models is given. These models simulate the proportion and distribution of coarse-grained channel belts in fine-grained overbank deposits. The major drawback of the present-day alluvial-architecture models is the lack of (three-dimensional) quantitative field data to test and validate them. The paper concludes with the suggestion to collect more architectural data from natural fluvial settings, to improve simulation of channel-belt geometry in alluvial-architecture models, and to implement new data and knowledge of fluvial processes into models.