Numerical modelling of Quaternary terrace staircase formation in the Ebro foreland basin, southern Pyrenees, NE Iberia

R.T. van Balen, K.M. Stange, S.A.P.L. Cloetingh, D. Garcia-Castellanos

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The southern foreland basin of the Pyrenees (Ebro basin) is an exorheic drainage basin since Late Miocene times. Remnants of an early exorheic Ebro drainage system are not preserved, but morphology provides evidence for the Pliocene–Quaternary drainage development. The incision history of the Ebro system is denoted by (i) extensive, low gradient pedimentation surfaces which are associated with the denudation of the southern Pyrenean piedmont around the Pliocene–Quaternary transition and (ii) deeply entrenched Quaternary river valleys. Presumably since the Middle Pleistocene fluvial incision intensified involving the formation of extensive terrace staircase in the Ebro basin. Terrace exposure dating in major Ebro tributary rivers indicates climate-triggered terrace formation in response to glacial–interglacial climate and glacier fluctuations in the Pyrenean headwaters. The overall (semi)parallel longitudinal terrace profiles argue for progressive base level lowering for the whole Ebro drainage network. The landscape evolution model, TISC, is used to evaluate climatic, tectonic and base level scenarios for terrace staircase formation in the Ebro drainage system. Model simulations are compared with morpho-climatic, tectonic and chronologic data. Results show that climatic fluctuations cause terrace formation, but the incision magnitudes and convergent terrace profiles predicted by this climate model scenario are not consistent with the (semi)parallel terraces in the Ebro basin. A model including previous (late Pliocene) uplift of the lower Ebro basin results in rapid base-level lowering and erosion along the drainage network, small late stage incision magnitudes and terrace convergence, which are not in agreement with observations. Instead, continuous Quaternary uplift of both the Pyrenees and the Ebro foreland basin triggers (semi)parallel terrace staircase formation in southern Pyrenean tributary rivers in consistency with the observed longitudinal terrace profiles and Middle–Late Pleistocene incision magnitudes. Forward model simulations indicate that the present Ebro drainage system is actively incising, providing further evidence for uplift
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-146
JournalBasin Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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