Braided River Response To Glacial-Drainage Capture And Climate Variations Through The Last Glacial Maximum

  • Ann Rowan

Student thesis: Phd


Glacial-interglacial cycles drive changes in the discharge and sediment flux from the headwaters of glaciated basins, which are recorded by proglacial fluvial sediments. Linking braided river stratigraphy to the Quaternary climate record could indicate the control of climate-driven variations in discharge and sediment flux on fluvial processes, and the magnitude and frequency of past climate variations. New Zealand is a key location for investigating terrestrial records of Southern Hemisphere climate change. The Late Quaternary braided river deposits on the Canterbury Plains, South Island, New Zealand have formed over the last 400 ka. The coastal cliff marking the southeastern margin of the Canterbury Plains provides excellent exposure of fluvial sediments deposited during the last glacial period, from ~40 ka until the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) (~18 ka).Deposition at the modern coastline of the Canterbury Plains is interpreted in the context of the climate event stratigraphy for New Zealand, which requires a precise geochronology. This thesis demonstrates the first successful application of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating to glaciofluvial sediments on South Island: a technique that was previously considered unsuitable for this region. Ages produced for the coastal stratigraphy range from 36.7 ± 2.9 to 18.2 ± 1.3 ka, indicating that deposition took place during the last glacial, with little or no postglacial aggradation.Three adjacent catchments on the southern Canterbury Plains-the Rakaia, Ashburton and Rangitata-have undergone glacial-drainage capture during the period represented by the coastal stratigraphy. During glacials, transfluent ice reversed the flow direction in several key tributaries, resulting in dramatic variations in effective drainage area of the Ashburton and Rangitata, and variations in discharge and sediment flux which are recorded in the stratigraphy of these catchments. The magnitude, timing and duration of drainage capture were quantified using the Plummer and Phillips (2003) glacier model. The Ashburton catchment increased to 160% of the modern effective drainage area when temperature change relative to modern conditions exceeded -6°C during the LGM. Meanwhile, the effective drainage area of the Rangitata decreased to 63%, and the Rakaia to 93%, reducing discharge from these catchments. Furthermore, glaciation dramatically affects the seasonality of the annual hydrograph.At four coastal sites, the fluvial stratigraphy was surveyed to investigate possible variations in depositional architecture, due to both climate variations, and glacial-drainage capture in the Ashburton and Rangitata. Unexpectedly, little vertical variation in depositional architecture was found, indicating that the deposits created by the braided rivers represent sediment transport during a similar set of flow (and by inference, climate) conditions. Laterally extensive erosional surfaces separating storeys of one or two flow depths in thickness, in combination with the OSL geochronology, suggest that the gravel-bed braided river stratigraphy primarily records a response to climate variations within glacial maxima, rather than on the scale of the glacial-interglacial cycle.
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMerren Jones (Supervisor), Stephen Covey-Crump (Supervisor) & Simon Brocklehurst (Supervisor)


  • sedimentology
  • glacier modelling
  • glacier
  • New Zealand
  • Quaternary
  • optically stimulated luminescence

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