Climate-controlled landscape evolution in the Western Transverse Ranges, California: Insights from Quaternary geochronology of the Saugus Formation and strath terrace flights

Duane E. DeVecchio, Richard V. Heermance, Markus Fuchs, Lewis A. Owen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The Las Posas and Ojai Valleys, located in the actively deforming Western Transverse Ranges of California, contain well-preserved flights of strath terraces and Quaternary strata (i.e., Saugus Formation) that when numerically dated elucidate the tectonic, geomorphic, and fluvial histories that sculpted the landscape since ca. 140 ka. This study includes 14 new optically stimulated luminescence and 16 new terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide ages from the late Pleistocene to Holocene that record two regional aggradation events and four intervals of strath terrace formation. Geochronologic data indicate that terrestrial Saugus strata in the Las Posas Valley (Camarillo Member) prograded over marine deposits at ca. 125 and 80 ka and are as young as 60-25 ka, which is an order of magnitude younger than the youngest Saugus strata elsewhere in Southern California. These results highlight the need for precise dating of Saugus strata where identified and utilized to assess rates of tectonic deformation. Based on its compositional character, thickness, stratigraphic relations, and inferred ages, the Camarillo member of the Saugus Formation is correlated with sediments of the Mugu aquifer identified in subcrop throughout the Ventura Basin and thus provides a new regional chronostratigraphic subsurface datum. The aggradation of these sediments and similar deposits in the study area between 13 and 4 ka is subsequent to the transition from humid to semiarid climate correlating to the end of the ultimate and penultimate glacial maximums. Aggradation is inferred to have resulted from increased sediment supply in response transient vegetative conditions and consequent hillslope destabilization. Similar to aggradational events, strath terrace cover sediments ages correlate to dry warm climate intervals, indicating straths in Southern California were cut at ca. 110-100 ka, 50-35 ka, 26-20 ka, and 15-4 ka. These results support recent mathematical and experimental models of strath formation, where increased sediment flux and decreased water discharge enhances lateral erosion rates and inhibits vertical incision. Subsequent incision and strath terrace formation is inferred to occur during intervening wet climate intervals. The correlation of strath terrace ages and aggradational events with environmental changes that are linked to global climate indicates that climate rather than tectonics exhibits first-order control of depositional, denudational, and incisional processes in the Western Transverse Ranges. Moreover, these results provide a chronostratigraphic framework that allows these landforms to be regionally correlated and used to assess rates of active tectonics where geochronologic data are unavailable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-130
Number of pages21
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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