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Responses of both modern and ancient fluvial depositional systems to growing folds can be interpreted in terms of interactions among competing controlling variables which can be incorporated into simple conceptual models. The ratio of the rate of sediment accumulation to the rate of structural uplift determines whether a fold develops a topographic expression above local base level. The balance between (a) stream power and rates of upstream deposition vs. (b) bedrock resistance and rates of crestal uplift and of fold widening determines whether an antecedent stream maintains its course or is defeated by a growing structure. Modern drainage configurations in actively folding landscapes can often be interpreted in terms of these competing variables, and through analysis of digital topography, detailed topographic characteristics of these folds can be quantified. Modern examples of growing folds display both defeated and persistent antecedent rivers, deflected drainages and laterally propagating structures. The topography associated with a defeated antecedent river at Wheeler Ridge, California, is consistent with a model in which defeat results from forced aggradation in the piggyback basin, without the need to vary discharge or uplift rate.

Reconstruction of the long-term interplay between a depositional system and evolving folds requires a stratigraphic perspective, such as that provided by syntectonic strata which are directly juxtaposed with ancient folds and faults. Analysis of Palaeogene growth strata bounding the Catalan Coastal Ranges of NE Spain demonstrates the synchronous growth and the kinematic history of multiple folds and faults in the proximal foreland basin. Although dominated by transverse rivers which crossed fold crests, palaeovalleys, interfan lows, structural re-entrants and saddles, and rising anticlines diverted flow and influenced local deposition. In the ancient record, drainage-network events, such as avulsion or defeat of a transverse stream, usually cannot be unambiguously attributed to a single cause. Examination of ancient syntectonic strata from a geomorphological perspective, however, permits successive reconstructions of synorogenic topography, landscapes and depositional systems.