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Fluvial terrace

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"River terrace" redirects here. For river terraces in tectonicclimatic interaction, see River terraces
(tectonicclimatic interaction). For the neighborhood in Washington, D.C., see River Terrace,
Washington, D.C.

Fluvial terraces are elongated terraces that flank the sides of floodplains and fluvial valleys all over
the world. They consist of a relatively level strip of land, called a tread, separated from either an
adjacent floodplain, other fluvial terraces, or uplands by distinctly steeper strips of land called
risers. These terraces lie parallel to and above the river channel and its floodplain. Because of the
manner in which they form, fluvial terraces are underlain by fluvial sediments of highly variable
thickness.[1][2]

Fluvial terraces are the remnants of earlier floodplains that existed at a time when either a stream or
river was flowing at a higher elevation before its channel downcut to create a new floodplain at a
lower elevation. Changes in elevation can be due to changes in the base level (elevation of the
lowest point in the fluvial system, usually the drainage basin) of the fluvial system, which leads to
headward erosion along the length of either a stream or river, gradually lowering its elevation. For
example, downcutting by a river can lead to increased velocity of a tributary, causing that tributary to
erode toward its headwaters. Terraces can also be left behind when the volume of the fluvial flow
declines due to changes in climate, typical of areas which were covered by ice during periods of
glaciation, and their adjacent drainage basins.[2][3]

Contents
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1 Types
2 Applications
3 See also
4 References
Types[edit]
There are two basic types of fluvial terraces, fill terraces and strath terraces. Fill terraces sometimes
are further subdivided into nested fill terraces and cut terraces. Both fill and strath terraces are, at
times, described as being either paired or unpaired terraces based upon the relative elevations of
the surface of these terraces.[4]
Eroded alluvial fill 60 feet (18 m) thick at Kanab Creek, Kane County, Utah. In 1884 the stream ran at top of the
terrace. 1939 photo by United States Geological Survey.

Fill terraces: Fill terraces are the result of an existing valley being filled with alluvium. The valley
may fill with alluvium for many different reasons including: an influx in bed load due to glaciation or
change in stream power which causes the valley, that was down cut by either a stream or river, to be
filled in with material (Easterbrook). The stream or river will continue to deposit material until an
equilibrium is reached and it can transport the material rather than deposit it. This equilibrium may
last for a very short period, such as, after glaciation, or for a very long time if the conditions do not
change. The fill terrace is created when the conditions change again and either a stream or river
starts to incise into the material that it deposited in the valley.[5] Once this occurs benches composed
completely of alluvium form on the sides of the valley. The upper most benches are the fill terraces.
As it continues to cut down through the alluvium the fill terraces are left above the river channel
(sometimes 100 m or more). The fill terrace is only the very highest terrace resulting from the
depositional episode, if there are multiple terraces below the fill terrace these are called cut
terraces.[5]

Hypothetical valley cross-section illustrating a complex sequence of aggradational (fill) and degradational (cut and
strath) terraces. Note ct = cut terrace, ft = fill terrace, ft(b) = buried fill terrace, fp = active floodplain, and st = strath
terrace.

Cut terraces: Cut terraces, also called "cut-in-fill" terraces, are similar to the fill terraces mentioned
above, but they are erosional in origin. Once the alluvium deposited in the valley has begun to erode
and fill terraces form along the valley walls, cut terraces may also form below the fill terraces. As
either a stream or river continues to incise into the material, multiple levels of terraces may form. The
uppermost being the fill terraces and the remaining lower terraces are cut terraces.[5]
Nested fill terraces: Nested fill terraces are the result of the valley filling with alluvium, the alluvium
being incised, and the valley filling again with material but to a lower level than before. The terrace
that results for the second filling is a nested terrace because it has been nested into the original
alluvium and created a terrace. These terraces are depositional in origin and may be able to be
identified by a sudden change in alluvium characteristics such as finer material for example.[5]
Strath terraces: Strath terraces are the result of either a stream or river downcutting through
bedrock. As the flow continues to downcut, a period of valley widening may occur and expand the
valley width. This may occur due to an equilibrium reached in the fluvial system resulting from:
slowed or paused uplift, climate change, or a change in the bedrock type. Once downcutting
continues the flattened valley bottom composed of bedrock (overlain with a possible thin layer of
alluvium) is left above either a stream or river channel. These bedrock terraces are the strath
terraces and are erosional in nature.[6]

Unpaired fluvial terraces on the South Fork of the Shoshone River, Park County, Wyoming, 1923. The river at left has
encountered a formation of erosion-resistant volcanic breccia, causing it to downcut more rapidly on the right, leaving
terraces of different elevations.

Paired and unpaired terraces: Terraces of the same elevation on opposite sides of either a stream
or river are called paired terraces. They occur when it downcuts evenly on both sides and terraces
on one side of the river correspond in height with those on the other side. Paired terraces are
caused by river rejuvenation. Unpaired terraces occur when either a stream or river encounters
material on one side that resists erosion, leaving a single terrace with no corresponding terrace on
the resistant side.[3]
Applications[edit]
Fluvial terraces can be used to measure the rate at which either a stream or river is downcutting its
valley. Using various dating methods, an age can be determined for the deposition of the terrace.
Using the resulting date and the elevation above its current level, an approximate average rate of
downcutting can be determined.[6]