Late Quaternary Landscape Evolution, Environmental Change, and Paleoindian Geoarchaeology in Middle Park, Colorado
AuthorMayer, James H.
AdvisorHolliday, Vance T.
Committee ChairHolliday, Vance T.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractStratigraphic records in Middle Park in north-central Colorado provide evidence for the late Quaternary geomorphic and environmental history of a non-glaciated Southern Rocky Mountain basin. Episodes of geomorphic instability apparent in the stratigraphic record coincide with changes in paleoenvironmental records from above 2750 m in north-central Colorado, suggesting that the western Middle Park landscape was sensitive to environmental changes affecting the region over the last ~14,000 years. Tributaries were incised prior to 14.0 ka, but deposits older than 12.0 ka are rare. Upland erosion and incision followed by rapid aggradation in alluvial settings between 12.0 and 11.0 ka coincide with evidence for regional temperatures at or above present, and is interpreted to signal the onset of Holocene summer-wet precipitation. A widespread soil-stratigraphic marker represents a long period of landscape stability between <11.0 and 6.0 ka in upland and alluvial settings. Pedologic evidence from upland settings indicates the expansion of grass and forest cover to lower elevations that today are characterized by sagebrush steppe, probably during a period of increased summer precipitation relative to present. During the late Holocene, episodes of aggradation in alluvial valleys at 6.0-1.0 ka and 0.6-0.2 ka and soil formation in uplands at 5.0-3.5 ka and 2.5-1.0 ka overlap with evidence for cooling at higher elevations. Incision of valley floors documented at 1.0-0.6 ka and during the last few centuries and episodes of erosion in uplands at 3.5-2.5 ka, after 1.0 ka, and within the last few centuries, are roughly synchronous with evidence for warming. Upland and alluvial stratigraphic records are interpreted to indicate that during cool intervals summer precipitation was diminished, resulting in relative hillslope stability and gradual valley bottom aggradation, while pulses in summer precipitation accompanying warmer episodes caused basin-wide geomorphic instability. The recent increasing frequency of geomorphic instability appears to correspond with an increase in sagebrush steppe at the expense of forest and grass cover, interpreted to represent progressive drying during the late Holocene. It stands to reason that future warming, if accompanied by similar patterns in precipitation, will result in continued erosion on a landscape already at a threshold of geomorphic instability.