Abstract

Investigations in the lower Colorado River Valley, Gulf Coastal Plain of Texas, have resulted in the development of a spatially and temporally controlled history of changes in channel and flood-plain erosional and depositional processes. When combined with paleoclimatic and stratigraphic data from the upper Colorado River drainage and the record of glacio-eustasy in the Gulf of Mexico, this study permits evaluation of the relative influence of different external controls on channel and flood-plain behavior, the development of alluvial landforms, and the development of alluvial stratigraphic sequences.

Late Pleistocene and Holocene alluvial deposits of the lower Colorado River have been subdivided into allostratigraphic units, with chronological control afforded by radiocarbon ages. In the bedrock-confined valley, up to 10 m of late Pleistocene (∼20,000-14,000 yr B.P.) sediments referred to as the Eagle Lake Alloformation (ELA) underlie a terrace at 17-20 m above the present-day channel. Deposition of the ELA was followed by bedrock valley incision, then deposition of a complex Holocene valley fill referred to as the Columbus Bend Alloformation (CBA). Columbus Bend Allomembers 1 and 2 (CBA-1 and CBA-2) underlie a terrace at 12-14 m above the present-day channel. CBA-1 was deposited ∼12,000-5,000 yr B.P., whereas CBA-2 was deposited ∼5,000-1,000 yr B.P. Columbus Bend Allomember 3 (CBA-3) consists of channel and flood-plain deposits that represent the past 600 yr of activity.

Allostratigraphic units within the lower Colorado valley correlate with allostratigraphic units in major valley axes of the upper Colorado drainage and with records of climatic and environmental change, suggesting that alluvial deposits record basinwide responses to climatically controlled changes in discharge regimes and sediment supply. Basal unconformities for Holocene valley fills, however, appear to be 1,000-2,000 yr younger in the upper Colorado drainage than they are in the lower Colorado valley. This time-transgressioe episode of bedrock valley cutting was initiated by climatically controlled reductions in sediment supply, but conditioned by limits on rates of up-stream propagation of incision through a large drainage basin. By contrast, unconformities within Holocene valley fills document time-parallel episodes of flood-plain abandonment and soil formation, but little additional bedrock valley cutting, and indicate decreased flood magnitudes following shifts to drier climatic conditions.

Flood-plain morphology and sedimentary facies changed through time in response to changes in climate coupled with a protracted degradation of upland soil mantles, which altered the rate at which precipitation was transferred to stream channels as runoff. During the late Pleistocene through middle Holocene, runoff was filtered through deep upland soils, floods were for the most part less flashy and contained within channel perimeters, and flood plains were constructed by lateral migration without significant vertical accretion; hence, the ELA and CBA-1 contain few vertical accretion facies. Exposure of bedrock surfaces during the late Holocene resulted in increased flood stages, deep overbank flooding, and construction of flood plains by vertical accretion; hence, CBA-2 and CBA-3 contain thick vertical accretion facies.

Allostratigraphic units and bounding unconformities persist through the bedrock-confined valley to the Quaternary alluvial plain, but stratigraphic architecture changes substantially in the downstream direction as a result of the last glacio-eustatic cycle. On the alluvial plain, late Holocene CBA-2 and modern CBA-3, deposited contemporaneously with the present interglacial highstand, onlap and bury the ELA and CBA-1, which were emplaced during the last full glacial lowstand and the transgression that followed.

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