The avulsion history of the Holocene Rhine-Meuse delta (The Netherlands) was reconstructed, on a timescale of millenia, using detailed paleogeographic maps based on approximately 200,000 lithological borehole descriptions, over 1150 14C ages, and 36,000 archaeological artifacts. Gradient lines were constructed for all channel belts. These allowed determination of gradients, paleo-flow direction, relative age of channel belts, and time correlation of undated channel-belt fragments. Avulsion sites were inferred from the paleogeographic reconstruction. At least 91 avulsions occurred over the past 10,000 years, of which 82 could be dated with an accuracy of ± 200 14C years.
The location and shifting of Holocene avulsion sites in the Rhine-Meuse delta in space and time are related to: (1) Relative sealevel rise. In the Early Holocene, avulsions could not take place, because rivers were still incised. Around 7500 yr BP, avulsions occurred in the western part of the present delta as a result of backfilling of the Late Weichselian valley. Between 7500 and 3700 yr BP, the zone where avulsions occurred shifted inland as a result of relative sealevel rise. (2) Neotectonics. Between 4900 and 1700 yr BP, the location of avulsion sites seems to have been influenced by neotectonic movements of the upthrown Peel Horst. Four out of six avulsion nodes in the Rhine-Meuse delta were located in the Peel Horst fault zones. (3) Increased discharge and/or within-channel sedimentation. From 2800 until about 1500 yr BP, avulsion sites were located all over the delta. During this time, the number of channels was high, and avulsion frequency reached a maximum, at a time when aggradation rate decreased with a reduction in the rate of sealevel rise. After 2000 yr BP meander wavelength of alluvial channels increased considerably. The increased meander wavelength and the high avulsion frequency are attributed to increased bankfull discharge or within-channel sedimentation (leading to channel widening), or both. (4) Human influence. Between 1000 and 650 yr BP, all the rivers were embanked, and avulsions could no longer take place. The few that occurred were induced by humans.