Evidence of transient topographic disequilibrium in a landward passive margin river system: knickpoints and paleo-landscapes of the New River basin, southern Appalachians

Authors

  • Philip S. Prince,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Geosciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, USA
    • Correspondence to: Philip S. Prince, Department of Geosciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA. E-mail: psprince@vt.edu

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  • James A. Spotila

    1. Department of Geosciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, USA
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ABSTRACT

The upper New River basin of the southern Appalachian Mountains, a major tributary of the modern Ohio River, represents the unglaciated headwaters of the Tertiary Teays River system of eastern North America. Dating of relict fluvial gravels have suggested that New River incision may be outpacing lowering of the surrounding uplands, but physical evidence of transient topographic disequilibrium has yet to be identified. We use focused topographic analysis of the upper New River basin to delineate a perched, low-relief paleo-landscape that is experiencing transgressive dissection due to incision by the New River and its tributaries. Accelerated incision has decoupled hillslopes from the drainage network, generating knickpoints which represent the boundary between remnants of the paleo-landscape and actively adjusting topography downstream. Steepening of hillslopes downstream of knickpoints suggests dynamic headward migration which, along with knickpoint occurrence throughout the drainage network, is inconsistent with the development of fixed stream profile convexities atop strike-extensive geologic contacts. In the absence of tectonic forcing, we favor a climatically-forced drop in external base level as driver of the incision pattern we observe. Plio-Pleistocene glacial damming and diversion of the Teays River to form the modern Ohio River lowered regional base level for the study area, potentially forcing the paleo-landscape developed during the Teays era to adjust to the modern drainage pattern. The upper New River may therefore represent the potential for glacially-driven drainage rearrangement to drive transient topographic evolution hundreds of kilometers away from the ice margin, long after the disappearance of ice sheets. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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