Climate change triggered sedimentation and progressive tectonic uplift in a coupled piedmont-axial system: Cuyama Valley, California, USA

Stephen B. DeLong, Jon D. Pelletier, Lee J. Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Channels on the north-facing piedmont of the Sierra Madre range in Cuyama Valley, California have alternated between three process regimes during the late Quaternary: (1) vertical incision into piedmont alluvium and older sedimentary deposits; (2) lateral erosion; and (3) sediment accumulation. The state of the piedmont system at a given time has been controlled by upstream sediment flux, regional tectonic uplift and incision of the axial Cuyama River. To better understand the timing and to attempt to interpret causes of past geomorphological processes on the Sierra Madre piedmont, we mapped the surficial geology and dated alluvial deposits using radiocarbon, cosmogenic and optical dating methods. Four primary episodes of sedimentation have occurred since ca. 100 ka, culminating in the most recent period of extensive piedmont sedimentation between 30 and 20 ka. Fill terraces in Cuyama Valley formed by piedmont sediment accumulation followed by vertical incision and lateral erosion are fairly planar and often mantle strath bedrock surfaces. Their vertical spatial arrangement is a record of progressive regional tectonic uplift and concomitant axial Cuyama River channel incision migrating up tributary piedmont channels. Subparallel longitudinal terrace profiles which have a linear age-elevation relationship indicate that multiple episodes of climatically controlled sedimentation overprints ∼1 m kyr-1 of regional uplift affecting the Cuyama River and its tributaries. Sedimentation was probably a result of increased precipitation that caused saturation landsliding in steep catchments. It is possible that increased precipitation during the Last Glacial Maximum was caused by both continental-scale circulation pattern reorganization and increased Pacific storm frequency and intensity caused by 'early warming' of nearby Pacific Ocean surface waters. Older episodes of piedmont sedimentation are difficult to correlate with specific climate regimes, but may correlate with previous periods of increased precipitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1033-1046
Number of pages14
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Cuyama Valley
  • Piedmont
  • Quaternary climate
  • Sedimentation
  • Tectonics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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