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Aalto & Nittrouer, 2012


210Pb geochronology of flood events in large tropical river systems

Aalto, R. and Nittrouer, C. (2012)
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2012) 370, 2040–2074  

Plain English Summary

This paper presents details of a new high-resolution dating method for river sediment that is able to date deposition (and sometime erosion) to within a few years. We are now successfully applying to study sites in the Christina River Basin Critical Zone Observatory.


Floodplain sedimentation removes particles from fluvial transport and constructs stratigraphic records of flooding, biogeochemical sequestration and other aspects of the environmental history of river basins—insight that is enhanced by accurate geochronology. The natural fallout radionuclide 210Pb, often employed to date lacustrine and marine sediments, has previously been used to determine floodplain accumulation rates over decadal-to-century time scales using the assumption that both input concentration and sediment accumulation rates are constant. We test this model in approximately 110 cores of pristine floodplains along approximately 2000km of the Rios Beni and Mamore in northern Bolivia; over 95 per cent of the 210Pb profiles depict individual episodic deposition events, not steady-state accumulation, requiring a revised geochronological methodology. Discrete measurements of down-core, clay-normalized adsorbed excess 210Pb activity are coupled with a new conceptual model of 210Pb input during floods: constant initial reach clay activity, unknown sedimentation (CIRCAUS). This enhanced methodology yields 210Pb dates that correspond well with (i) dates determined from meteoric caps, (ii) observed dates of river bar formation, (iii) known flood dates, and (iv) dates from nearby cores along the same transect. Similar results have been found for other large rivers. The CIRCAUS method for geochronology therefore offers a flexible and accurate method for dating both episodic (decadal recurrence frequency) and constant (annual recurrence) sediment accumulation on floodplains.


Aalto, R. and Nittrouer, C. (2012): 210Pb geochronology of flood events in large tropical river systems. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2012) 370, 2040–2074. DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2011.0607