Hostname: page-component-5db6c4db9b-fdz9p Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-26T10:17:47.239Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Holocene Paleofloods of the Ross River, Central Australia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Peter C. Patton
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut 06459
Geoff Pickup
Centre for Arid Zone Research, CSIRO, Alice Springs, NT 0871, Australia
David M. Price
Department of Geography, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2500, Australia


The rivers of central Australia rise in the MacDonnell Ranges and flow out across broad, low-relief plains into the surrounding desert. The stratigraphy of the Ross River plain records the areal extent and frequency of Holocene floods. This floodout plain is underlain by deeply weathered alluvial deposits, characterized by red earth soils dated by thermoluminesence at >59,000 yr. This old alluvium is covered by a sheet-like deposit of very silty sand of probable eolian origin dated by thermoluminesence at 9200 ± 900 yr. The oldest Holocene alluvium occurs as broad, low-relief bars and levee deposits flanking the modem channel and as low-relief long-wavelength bedforms that fan out across the plain. This deposit resulted from a flood flow, up to 10 km wide, that covered the entire plain. Evidence for several large floods between 1500 and 700 yr B.P. is also preserved in a 500- to 1500-m-wide paleochannel. Thus, the surface features on the floodout plains are the product of a few rare large flood events. This paleohydrologic record is additional evidence of the dynamic nature of the hydrometerological regime of central Australia.

Research Article
University of Washington

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Baker, V. R. Pickup, G., and Polach, H. A. (1983). Desert palaeofloods in central Australia. Nature 301, 502504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bowler, J. M., and Wasson, R. J. (1983). Glacial age environments of inland Australia. In “Proceedings ASAQUA International Symposium,” pp. 183208. Swaziland.Google Scholar
Bowler, J. M. (1977). Quaternary landform evolution. In “Australia: A Geography” (Jeans, D. N., Ed.), pp. 117147. Sydney Univ. Press, Sydney.Google Scholar
Graf, W. L. (1983). Flood-related channel change in an arid region river. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 8, 125139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hubble, G. D. Isbell, R. F., and Northcote, K. H. (1983). Features of Australian soils. In “Soils: An Australian Viewpoint,” pp. 1747. CSIRO, Melbourne, Academic Press, London.Google Scholar
Kochel, R. C Baker, V. R., and Patton, P. C. (1982). Paleohydrology of southwestern Texas. Water Resources Research 18, 11651183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kotwicki, V. (1986), “Floods of Lake Eyre.” Engineering and Water Supply Department, Adelaide, South Australia.Google Scholar
Lea, P. D. (1990). Pleistocene periglacial eolian deposits in southwestern Alaska: Sedimentary facies and depositional processes. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology 60, 582591.Google Scholar
Lea, P. D., and Waythomas, C. F. (1990). Late-Pleistocene eolian sand sheets in Alaska. Quaternary Research 34, 269281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Litchfield, W. H. (1969). “Soil Surfaces and Sedimentary History Near the Macdonnell Ranges.” N. T. Soil Publication 25, Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Mel-bourne.Google Scholar
Mabbutt, J. A. (1962). Geomorphology of the Alice Springs area. In “Genera! Reports on Lands of the Alice Springs Area, Northern Territory, 1956-57” (Perry, R. A., compiler), Land Research Series No. 6, pp. 163184. CSIRO, Melbourne.Google Scholar
Mabbutt, J. A. (1977). “Desert Landforms.” MIT Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Moore, A. W. Isbell, R. F., and Northcote, K. H. (1983). Classification of Australian soils. In “Soils: An Australian Viewpoint,” pp. 253266. CSIRO, Melbourne, Academic Press, London.Google Scholar
Nanson, G. C Price, D. M. Short, S. A. Young, R. W., and Jones, B. G. (1991). Comparative uranium-thorium and thermolumines-cence dating of weathered Quaternary alluvium in the tropics of Northern Australia. Quaternary Research. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Northcote, K. H. (1971). “A Factual Key for the Recognition of Australian Soils.” Rellim Technical Publications, Glenside, South Australia.Google Scholar
Offe, L. A., and Shaw, R. D. (1983). “Geologic Map of the Alice Springs Region, Northern Territory,” Scale 1:100,000. Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics, Canberra.Google Scholar
Patton, P. C Baker, V. R., and Kochel, R. C. (1979). Siackwater de-posits: A geomorphic technique for the interpretation of fluvial pa-leohydrology. In “Adjustments of the Fluvial System” (Rhodes, D. D. and Williams, G., Eds.), pp. 225253. Kendall/Hunt, Dubuque.Google Scholar
Pickup, G. (1989). Palaeoflood hydrology and estimation of the magnitude, frequency and areal extent of extreme floods—An Australian perspective. Civil Engineering Transactions, pp. 1929. The Institution of Engineers, Australia.Google Scholar
Pickup, G. (1991). Event frequency and landscape stability on the flood-plain systems of arid central Australia. Quaternary Science Reviews 10, 463473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pickup, G. Baker, V. R., and Allan, G. (1988). History, palaeochannels and palaeofloods of the Finke River, central Australia. In “Fluvial Geomorphology in Australia.” (Warner, R. F., Ed.), pp. 177200. Academic Press, Sydney.Google Scholar
Readhead, M. (1984). “Thermoluminesence Dating of Some Australian Sedimentary Deposits.” Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University.Google Scholar
Saarinen, T. F. Baker, V. R. Durrenberger, R., and Maddock, T. (1984). “The Tucson, Arizona, Flood of October 1983.” National Academy Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
Schumm, S. A., and Lichty, R. W. (1963). “Channel Widening and Floodplain Construction along Cimarron River in Southwestern Kan-sas,” pp. 7188. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 352-D.Google Scholar
Schick, A. P. (1988). Hydrologic aspects of floods in extreme arid environments. In “Flood Geomorphology” (Baker, V. R. Kochel, R. C., and Patton, P. C., Eds.), pp. 189204. Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
Shaw, R. D., and Wells, A. T. (1983). “Alice Springs Geological Sheet,” Sheet SF/53-14, scale 1:250,000. Department of Resources and Energy, Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics.Google Scholar
Wasson, R. J. (1983a). Late Quaternary palaeoenvironments in the desert dunefields of Australia. In “Proceedings SASQUA Symposium,” pp. 419432. Swaziland.Google Scholar
Wasson, R. J. (1983b). The Cainozoic history of the Strzelecki and Simpson dunefields (Australia), and the origin of the desert dunes. Zeitschrift Fuer Geomorphoiogie N.F., Suppl. 45, 85115.Google Scholar
Webb, R. H. (1985). “Late Holocene Flooding on the Escalante River, South-Centra! Utah.” Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Arizona.Google Scholar
Wells, S. G., and Dohrenwend, J. C. (1985). Relict sheetflood bed forms on late Quaternary alluvial-fan surfaces in the southwestern United States. Geology 13, 512516.2.0.CO;2>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Williams, G. E. (1970). The central Australian stream floods of February-March 1967. Journal of Hydrology 11, 185200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wohl, E. E. (1988). Thermoluminesence dating of late Quaternary fluvial sands, East Alligator River, Australia. Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Programs 20(7), A53.Google Scholar
Wolman, M. G., and Gerson, R. (1978). Relative scales of time and effectiveness of climate in watershed geomorphology. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 3, 189208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar