Neogene Rejuvenation of Central Appalachian Topography: Evidence for Differential Rock Uplift From Stream Profiles and Erosion Rates

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Publication Date



Earth Sciences



Publication Title

Earth and Planetary Science Letters


The persistence of topography within ancient orogens remains one of the outstanding questions in landscape evolution. In the eastern North American Appalachians, this question is manifest in the outstanding problem of whether topographic relief is in a quasi-equilibrium state, decaying slowly over many millennia, or whether relief has increased during the late Cenozoic. Here we present quantitative geomorphic data from the nonglaciated portion of the Susquehanna River drainage basin that provide insight into these end-member models. Analysis of channel profiles draining upland catchments in the northern Valley and Ridge, Appalachian Plateau, Blue Ridge, and Piedmont provinces reveals that a large number of streams have well defined knickpoints clustered at 300–600 m elevation but not systematically associated with transitions from weak to resistant substrate. Cosmogenic 10Be inventories of modern stream sediment indicate that erosion rates are spatially variable, ranging from ~5–30 m/Myr above knickpoints to ~50–100 m/Myr below knickpoints. Overall, channel gradients, normalized for drainage area, scale linearly with catchment-averaged erosion rates. Collectively, regionally consistent spatial relationships among erosion rate, channel steepness, and knickpoints reveal an ongoing wave of transient channel adjustment to a change in relative base level. Reconstructions of relict channel profiles above knickpoints suggest that higher rates of incision are associated with ~100–150 m of relative base level fall that accompanied epierogenic rock uplift rather than a change to a more erosive climate or drainage reorganization. Channel response timescales imply that the onset of relative base level change predates ~3.5 Ma and may have begun as early as ~15 Ma. We suggest that adjustment of the channel network was likely driven by changes in mantle dynamics along the eastern seaboard of North America during the Neogene.


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