Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-ppllx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-28T16:39:57.608Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

A conceptual model of valley incision, planation and terrace formation during cold and arid permafrost conditions of Pleistocene southern England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Julian B. Murton*
Permafrost Laboratory, Department of Geography, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QJ, UK
Roger K. Belshaw
6a Ipswich Road, Norwich, NR2 2LP, UK
Corresponding author. Fax: +44 1273 677196.


Staircases of gravelly river terrace deposits in southern England occupy valleys typically underlain by frost-susceptible and brecciated bedrocks. The valleys developed during the Quaternary by alternating episodes of (1) brecciation, incision and planation through the bedrock, forming wide low-relief erosion surfaces; and (2) aggradation in braidplains of gravel a few meters thick that bury the erosion surfaces. A conceptual model to account for some of the terraces proposes that brecciation resulted from ice segregation in the ice-rich layer in the upper meters of Pleistocene permafrost, making them vulnerable to fluvial thermal erosion and therefore predisposing the bedrock to planation. The low gradients of the valleys were adjusted such that rivers transferred fine materials out of the basins but lacked the competence to remove gravel, which therefore accumulated within floodplains. The model challenges the prevailing view of incision during climate transitions. It attributes incision and planation to very cold and arid permafrost conditions, when rivers had limited discharges and hillslopes supplied limited volumes of stony debris into valley bottoms.

Research Article
University of Washington

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Antoine, P., Catt, J., Lautridou, J.-P., and Sommé, J. The loess and coversands of northern France and southern England. Journal of Quaternary Science 18, (2003). 309318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Are, F. Thermal abrasion of coasts. Permafrost, 4th International Conference Proceedings. (1983). National Academy Press, Washington DC. 2427.Google Scholar
Ballantyne, C.K., and Harris, C. The Periglaciation of Great Britain. (1994). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Bellamy, A.G. Extension of the British landmass: evidence from shelf sediment bodies in the English Channel. Preece, R.C. Island Britain: a Quaternary Perspective. Geological Society Special Publication 96, (1995). 4762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Belshaw, R.K. Stages in the pre-Anglian development of the river systems of Central and Eastern England. Quaternary Newsletter 111, (2007). 1635.Google Scholar
Belshaw, R.K., Hackney, G.D., and Smith, K.A. The evolution of the drainage pattern of the English Midlands from the Late Tertiary to the Early Pleistocene: the significance of the Milton Formation. Quaternary Newsletter 105, (2005). 1631.Google Scholar
Belshaw, R.K., Smith, K.A., and Hackney, G.D. The Early Pleistocene modification of the remnants of the Tertiary drainage system in Northamptonshire, U.K. Quaternary Newsletter 109, (2006). 1120.Google Scholar
Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R., Preece, R.C., Keen, D.H., Boreham, S., Griffiths, H.I., Seddon, M.B., and Gibbard, P.L. Fluvial system response to Late Devensian (Weichselian) aridity, Baston, Lincolnshire, England. Journal of Quaternary Science 19, (2004). 479495. doi: Scholar
Briant, R.M., Bateman, M.D., Coope, G.R., and Gibbard, P.L. Climatic control on Quaternary fluvial sedimentology of a Fenland Basin river, England. Sedimentology 52, (2005). 13971423. Scholar
Bridgland, D.R. The Middle and Upper Pleistocene sequence in the Lower Thames: a record of Milankovitch climatic fluctuation and early human occupation of southern Britain. Proceedings of Geologists' Association 117, (2006). 281305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bridgland, D.R., and Westaway, R. Climatically controlled river terrace staircases: a worldwide Quaternary phenomenon. Geomorphology 98, (2008). 285315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bridgland, D.R., Preece, R.C., Roe, H.M., Tipping, H.M., Coope, G.R., Field, M.H., Robinson, J.E., Schreve, D.C., and Crowe, K. Middle Pleistocene interglacial deposits at Barling, Essex, England: evidence for a longer chronology for the Thames terrace sequence. Journal of Quaternary Science 16, (2001). 813840.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bridgland, D.R., Maddy, D., and Bates, M. River terrace sequences: templates for Quaternary geochronology and marine–terrestrial correlation. Journal of Quaternary Science 19, (2004). 203218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Büdel, J. Climatic Geomorphology. (1982). Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
Burn, C. Frost heave in lake-bottom sediments, Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories. Permafrost – Canada, Proceedings of the Fifth Canadian Permafrost Conference, National Research Council of Canada – Centre d'études nordiques, Université Laval, Collection Nordicana no. 54. (1990). 103109.Google Scholar
Castleden, R. Periglacial pediments in central and southern England. Catena 4, (1977). 111121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Castleden, R. Fluvioglacial pedimentation: a general theory of fluvial valley development in cool temperate lands, illustrated from western and central Europe. Catena 7, (1980). 135152.Google Scholar
Cheetham, G.H. Late Quaternary palaeohydrology: the Kennet Valley case-study. Jones, D.K.C. The Shaping of Southern England. Institute of British Geographers Special Publication 11. (1980). 203223.Google Scholar
Chorley, R.J., Schumm, S.A., and Sugden, D.E. Geomorphology. (1984). Methuen, London.Google Scholar
Church, M. Geomorphic thresholds in riverine landscapes. Freshwater Biology 47, (2002). 541557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Church, M.A., and Miles, M.J. Discussion: processes and mechanisms of river bank erosion. Hey, R.D., Bathurst, J.C., and Thorne, C.R. Gravel-bed Rivers. (1982). Wiley & Sons, New York. 259271.Google Scholar
Clark, P.U., Dyke, A.S., Shakun, J.D., Carlson, A.E., Clark, J., Wohlfarth, B., Mitrovica, J.X., Hostetler, S.W., and McCabe, M. The Last Glacial Maximum. Science 325, (2009). 710714.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Clarke, M.R., and Fisher, P.F. The Caesar's Camp Gravel — an early Pleistocene fluvial periglacial deposit in southern England. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 94, (1983). 345355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Collins, P.E.F., Fenwick, I.M., Keith-Lucas, D.M., and Worsley, P. Late Devensian river and floodplain dynamics and related environmental change in northwest Europe, with particular reference to a site at Woolhampton, Berkshire, England. Journal of Quaternary Science 11, (1996). 357375.3.0.CO;2-U>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Costard, F., Dupreyat, L., Gautier, E., and Carey-Gailhardis, E. Fluvial thermal erosion investigations along a rapidly eroding riverbank: application to the Lena River (Central Siberia). Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 28, (2003). 13491359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Costard, F., Gautier, E., Brunstein, D., Hammadi, J., Fedorov, A., Yang, D., and Dupeyrat, L. Impact of the global warming on the fluvial thermal erosion over the Lena River in Central Siberia. Geophysical Research Letters 34, (2007). L14501 Scholar
Dansgaard, W., Johnsen, S.J., Clausen, H.B., Dahl-Hensen, D., Gundestrup, N.S., Hammer, C.U., Hvidberg, C.S., Steffensen, J.P., Sveinbjörnsdottir, A.E., Jouzel, J., and Bond, G. Evidence for general instability of past climate form a 250-kyr ice-core record. Nature 364, (1993). 218220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ferrians, O., Kachodoorian, R., and Green, G.W. Permafrost and related engineering problems in Alaska. United States Geological Survey Professional Paper 678. (1969). Google Scholar
French, H.M., Bennett, L., and Hayley, D.W. Ground ice conditions near Rea Point and on Sabine Peninsula, eastern Melville Island. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 23, (1986). 13891400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gao, C., Boreham, S., Preece, R.C., Gibbard, P.L., and Briant, R.M. Fluvial response to rapid climate change during the Devensian (Weichselian) Lateglacial in the River Great Ouse, southern England, UK. Sedimentary Geology 202, (2007). 193210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gibbard, P.L. The Pleistocene History of the Middle Thames Valley. (1985). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Gibbard, P.L., and Lewin, J. Climate and related controls on interglacial fluvial sedimentation in lowland Britain. Sedimentary Geology 151, (2002). 187210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gibbard, P.L., and Lewin, J. The history of the major rivers of southern Britain during the Tertiary. Journal of the Geological Society 160, (2003). 829845.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gibbard, P.L., and Lewin, J. River incision and terrace formation in the Late Cenozoic of Europe. Tectonophysics 474, (2009). 4155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Green, C.P., and McGregor, D.F.M. Quaternary evolution of the River Thames. Jones, D.K.C. The Shaping of Southern England. Institute of British Geographers Special Publication 11 (1980). Academic Press, London. 177202.Google Scholar
Helley, E.J. Field measurements of the initiation of large bed particle motion in Blue Creek near Klamath, California. United States Geological Survey Professional Paper 562G. (1969). Google Scholar
Howard, A.J., Bridgland, D.R., Knight, D., McNabb, J., Rose, J., Schreve, D., Westaway, R., White, M.J., and White, T.S. The British Pleistocene fluvial archive: East Midlands drainage evolution and human occupation in the context of the British and NW European record. Quaternary Science Reviews 26, (2007). 27242737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Huijzer, A.S., and Vandenberghe, J. Climatic reconstruction of the Weichselian Pleniglacial in north western and central Europe. Journal of Quaternary Science 13, (1998). 391417.3.0.CO;2-6>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kasse, C., Vandenberghe, D., De Corte, D., and Van den Haute, P. Late Weichselian fluvio-aeolian sands and coversands of the type locality Gubbenvorst (southern Netherlands): sedimentary environments, climate record and age. Journal of Quaternary Science 22, (2007). 695708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Keen, D.H., Hardaker, T., and Lang, A.T.O. A Lower Palaeolithic industry from the Cromerian (MIS 13) Baginton Formation of Waverley Wood and Wood Farm Pits, Bubbenhall, Warwickshire, UK. Journal of Quaternary Science 21, (2006). 457470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Koster, E.A. Recent advances in luminescence dating of late Pleistocene (cold-climate) aeolian sand and loess deposits in Western Europe. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 16, (2005). 131143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Langford, H.E., Bateman, M.D., Penkman, K.E.H., Boreham, S., Briant, R.M., Coope, R.R., and Keen, D.H. Age-estimate evidence for Middle–Late Pleistocene aggradation of River Nene 1st Terrace deposits at Whittlesey, eastern England. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 118, (2007). 283300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lawson, D.E. Erosion of perennially frozen streambanks. U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory Report 83-29, Hanover, New Hampshire. (1983). Google Scholar
Lewis, S.G., Maddy, D., and Scaife, R.G. The fluvial system response to abrupt climate change during the last cold stage: the upper Pleistocene River Thames fluvial succession at Ashton Keynes, UK. Global and Planetary Change 28, (2001). 341359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lowe, J.J., Rasmussen, S.O., Björck, S., Hoek, W.Z., Steffensen, J.P., Walker, M.J.C., Yu, Z.C. the INTIMATE Group Synchronisation of palaeoenvironmental events in the North Atlantic region during the Last Termination: a revised protocol recommended by the INTIMATE group. Quaternary Science Reviews 27, (2008). 617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maddy, D. Uplift driven valley incision and river terrace formation in southern England. Journal of Quaternary Science 12, (1997). 539545.3.0.CO;2-T>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maddy, D., Lewis, S.G., Scaife, R.G., Bowen, D.Q., Coope, G.R., Green, C.P., Hardaker, T., Keen, D.H., Rees-Jones, J., Parfitt, S., and Scott, K. The Upper Pleistocene deposits at Cassington, near Oxford, England. Journal of Quaternary Science 13, (1998). 205231.3.0.CO;2-N>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maddy, D., Bridgland, D.R., and Westaway, R. Uplift-driven valley incision and climate-controlled river terrace development in the Thames Valley, UK. Quaternary International 79, (2001). 2336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matsuoka, N. Solifluction rates, processes and landforms: a global review. Earth Science Reviews 55, (2001). 107134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miall, A.D. A review of the braided-river depositional environment. Earth Science Reviews 13, (1977). 162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miall, A.D. Fluvial sedimentology: an historical review. Miall, A.D. Fluvial Sedimentology. Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists, Memoir 5, (1978). 147.Google Scholar
Murton, J.B. Near-surface brecciation of chalk, Isle of Thanet, south-east England: a comparison with ice-rich brecciated bedrocks in Canada and Spitsbergen. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 7, (1996). 153164.3.0.CO;2-7>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Murton, J.B. Thermokarst sediments and sedimentary structures, Tuktoyaktuk Coastlands, Western Arctic Canada. Global and Planetary Change 28, (2001). 175192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Murton, J.B. Global warming and thermokarst. Margesin, R. Permafrost Soils. Soil Biology Vol. 16, (2009). Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg. 185203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Murton, J.B., Peterson, R., and Ozouf, J.-C. Bedrock fracture by ice segregation in cold regions. Science 314, (2006). 11271129.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Renssen, H., Kasse, C., Vandenberghe, J., and Lorenz, S.J. Weichselian Late Pleniglacial surface winds over northwest and central Europe: a model-data comparison. Journal of Quaternary Science 22, (2007). 281293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rose, J., Allen, P., Kemp, R.A., Whiteman, C.A., and Owen, N. The early Anglian Barham Soil in southern East Anglia. Boardman, J. Soils and Quaternary Landscape Evolution. (1985). Wiley, Chichester. 197229.Google Scholar
Rose, J., Lee, J.A., Kemp, R.A., and Harding, P.A. Palaeoclimate, sedimentation and soil development during the last Glacial Stage (Devensian), Heathrow Airport, London, UK. Quaternary Science Reviews 19, (2000). 827847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Seddon, M.B., and Holyoak, D.T. Evidence of sustained regional permafrost during deposition of fossiliferous Late Pleistocene river sediments at Stanton Harcourt (Oxfordshire, England). Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 96, (1985). 5371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Selby, M.J. Earth's Changing Surface. (1985). Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
Shakesby, R.A., and Stephens, N. The Pleistocene gravels of the Axe valley, Devon. Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for Advancement of Science 116, (1984). 7788.Google Scholar
Shotton, F.W., Keen, D.H., Coope, G.R., Currant, A.P., Gibbard, P.L., Aalto, M., Peglar, S.M., and Robinson, J.E. The Middle Pleistocene deposits of Waverley Wood Pit, Warwickshire, England. Journal of Quaternary Science 8, (1993). 293325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shur, Y., Hinkel, K.M., and Nelson, F.E. The transient layer: implications for geocryology and climate-change science. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 16, (2005). 517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smith, K.A., (1999). Quaternary environmental changes in the fluvial and faunal history of central Northamptonshire. PhD Thesis, University of Leicester, .Google Scholar
Steffensen, J.P., Andersen, K.K., Bigler, M., Clausen, H.B., Dahl-Jensen, D., Fischer, H., Goto-Azuma, K., Hansson, M., Johnsen, S.J., Jouzel, J., Masson-Delmotte, V., Popp, P., Rasmussen, S.O., Röthlisberger, R., Ruth, U., Stauffer, B., Siggaard-Andersen, M.-L., Sveinbjörnsdóttir, A.E., Svensson, A., and White, J.W.C. High-resolution Greenland ice core data show abrupt climate change happens in a few years. Science 321, (2008). 680684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stemerdink, C., Maddy, D., Bridgland, D.R., and Veldkamp, A. The construction of a palaeodischarge time series for use in a study of fluvial system development of the Middle to Late Pleistocene Upper Thames. Journal of Quaternary Science 25, (2010). 447460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Te Punga, M.T. Periglaciation in southern England. Tijdschrift van het Koninklijk Nederlandsch Aardrijkskundig Genootschap 74, (1957). 400412.Google Scholar
Van Huissteden, J., Gibbard, P.L., and Briant, R.M. Periglacial fluvial systems in northwest Europe during marine isotope stages 4 and 3. Quaternary International 79, (2001). 7588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vandenberghe, J. Changing fluvial processes under changing periglacial conditions. Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie, Supplement Band 88, (1993). 1728.Google Scholar
Vandenberghe, J. Timescales, climate and river development. Quaternary Science Reviews 14, (1995). 631638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vandenberghe, J. Climate forcing of fluvial system development: an evolution of ideas. Quaternary Science Reviews 22, (2003). 20532060.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vandenberghe, J. The fluvial cycle at cold–warm–cold transitions in lowland regions: a refinement of theory. Geomorphology 98, (2008). 275284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vandenberghe, J., Lowe, J.J., Coope, R., Litt, T., and Zöller, L. Climatic and environmental variability in the mid-latitude Europe sector during the last interglacial–glacial cycle. Battarbee, R.W., Gasse, F., and Stickley, C.E. Past Climate Variability through Europe and Africa. (2004). Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands. 393416.Google Scholar
Walker, H.J., Arnborg, L., and Peippo, J. Riverbank erosion in the Colville Delta, Alaska. Geografiska Annaler 69A, (1987). 6170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wang, Z.-Y., Qi, P., and Melching, C.S. Fluvial hydraulics of hyperconcentrated flows in Chinese rivers. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 34, (2009). 981993.Google Scholar
Westaway, R., Maddy, D., and Bridgland, D.R. Flow in the lower continental crust as a mechanism for the Quaternary uplift of south-east England: constraints from the Thames terrace record. Quaternary Science Reviews 21, (2002). 559603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Worsley, P. Permafrost stratigraphy in Britain — a first approximation. Boardman, J. Periglacial Processes and Landforms in Britain and Ireland. (1987). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 8999.Google Scholar
Yumoto, M., Ogata, T., Matsuoka, N., and Matsumoto, E. Riverbank freeze–thaw erosion along a small mountain stream, Nikko volcanic area, central Japan. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 17, (2006). 325339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar