Geomorphic, sedimentary, and potential palaeoenvironmental significance of peat blocks in alluvial river systems

Jeff Warburton, Martin Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fluvial erosion of peat deposits occurs in many environmental settings; however, the erosion and transport of large peat blocks by river channels has received relatively little attention. This paper describes the sedimentary significance and potential palaeoenvironmental interpretation of peat blocks in alluvial river systems. Evidence is presented from a number of field studies of upland river systems in northern England that illustrate a range of peat block forms and sedimentary features that are briefly compared with examples of peat blocks preserved in gravel stratigraphy. We show that peat blocks are an important geomorphological and sedimentological component of upland rivers draining eroding peatland catchments. They are of widespread occurrence and contribute significantly to river channel roughness and channel sedimentation. A variety of common sedimentary features can be observed including, shadow, crescent, perched, armoured, drape, embedded (part buried), cluster, and step forms. Peat blocks tend to be deposited on channel margins and bar tops and can be used as "maximum" stage indicator for major floods. The role of peat blocks in controlling sedimentation varies with channel width. In narrow channels where the size of the peat block approximates the channel width, blocks become jammed in the channel and exert a primary control on channel sedimentation. In wider channels, blocks tend to occur in isolation or in small clusters and are of only secondary importance in controlling sedimentation. Residence times of peat blocks varies from short periods of temporary deposition (days to months) to much longer timescales (months to years) with some blocks becoming permanently incorporated into the sedimentary record. The sedimentary characteristics of contemporary buried peat blocks have much in common with blocks preserved in alluvial gravel stratigraphy. This offers the potential for using these features for palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. Peat blocks in many ways are analogous to other low density geological materials (ice blocks, woody debris, and some volcanic sediments), and recognising the special sedimentological characteristics of this suite of materials is important as they are not always adequately characterised using conventional hydraulic relationships. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-114
Number of pages13
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2011


  • Deposition
  • Palaeoenvironmental significance
  • Peat
  • Sediment transport
  • Sedimentation


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