Geomorphological interpretations of late Quaternary terraces in western Tennessee and their regional tectonic implications

Professional Paper 1336-A
Edited by: David P. Russ and Anthony J. Crone



By use of large-scale topographic maps and traditional techniques of geomorphology. a series of stream terraces was identified and delineated on the Obion, Forked Deer, Hatchie, Loosahatchie, and Wolf Rivers in western Tennessee. From lowest and youngest to highest and oldest, they are designated the Finley, Hatchie, Humboldt, and Henderson terraces. The areal extent and continuity of the relict flood plains are ample to permit reconstruction of former elevations and valley slopes.

Downvalley gradients of the terraces and morphology are strongly indicative of the processes and events that influenced terrace formation. Nil gradients for several tens of kilometers upstream from the Mississippi alluvial valley on the Finley and Hatchie terraces and shoreline features on the Finley terrace are interpreted as evidence that backwater flooding from the Mississippi Valley produced extensive seasonal or permanent lakes in the tributary valleys. Therefore, in part. these terraces are relict lacustrine plains. The Humboldt and Henderson terraces do not have any of these characteristics and are interpreted as being entirely of fluvial origin. All terraces are capped by a veneer of loess representing one or more episodes of deposition.

Interstream terrace correlations made by using only geomorphic evidence are not definitive, and two interpretations are nearly equally viable. One of these has potentially significant regional tectonic implications because it suggests Quaternary uplift in the vicinity of a known pluton along the flank of the major rift in the New Madrid seismic zone. However, the preferred interpretation suggests that no appreciable regional structural deformation has taken place. Neither interpretation indicates Quaternary deformation in the upland area relative to the Mississippi alluvial valley. 

Topographic relationships of the terraces to features resulting from the sequence of Pleistocene aggradation and degradation in the Mississippi Valley indicate correlation of the Finley terrace with the early Wisconsinan episode of outwash deposition. Several lines of evidence suggest correlation of the Hatchie terrace with the Prairie terrace of the lower Mississippi Valley, which is Sangamonian in age. By inference, the Humboldt terrace could be of Yarmouthian age.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geomorphological interpretations of late Quaternary terraces in western Tennessee and their regional tectonic implications
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 1336
Chapter A
DOI 10.3133/pp1336A
Year Published 1987
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Description v, 19 p.
Country United States
State Tennessee
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