Three generations of the ancestral Susquehanna River system have been mapped beneath Chesapeake Bay and the southern Delmarva Peninsula. Closely spaced seismic reflection profiles in the bay and boreholes in the bay and on the southern Delmarva Peninsula allow detailed reconstruction of each paleochannel system. The channel systems were formed during glacial low sea-level stands, and each contains a channel-fill sequence that records the subsequent transgression. The trunk channels of each system are 2 to 4 km wide and are incised 30 to 50 m into underlying strata; they have irregular longitudinal profiles and very low gradients within the Chesapeake Bay area.
The three main-stem channels diverge from the head of the bay toward the southeast. The channels are rarely coincident, although they commonly intersect. All three main channels pass beneath the southern Delmarva Peninsula, forming an age progression from north (oldest) to south (youngest) beneath the Peninsula, and from east (oldest) to west (youngest) beneath Chesapeake Bay. Southward progradation of the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula during interglacial high sea-level stands caused southward migration of the mouth of the bay, so that the next generation of channels were incised progressively further towards the southwest.
The youngest paleochannel is clearly of late Wisconsinan age, about 18 ka, and the intermediate one appears to be late Illinoian in age, or about 150 ka. The age of the oldest paleochannel is not well constrained, but it is in the range of about 200 to 400 ka. The three paleochannel systems imply a dynamic coastal-plain environment and at least two previous generations of the Chesapeake Bay. Both the Chesapeake Bay and the southern Delmarva Peninsula have changed considerably in the past half million years.