Toe-cut terraces: A review and proposed criteria to differentiate from traditional fluvial terraces

Phillip H. Larson, Ronald Dorn, Douglas J. Faulkner, Donald A. Friend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Alluvial fans and fluvial terraces occur in nearly all climatic settings and often coexist within the same drainage basin. These landforms play an important role in understanding the geomorphic, hydrologic, sedimentologic and erosional histories of a basin. The juxtaposition of fans and fluvial terraces, in some instances, can lead to misinterpretation in distinguishing traditional fluvial terraces from the truncated toe of tributary alluvial fans. This becomes particularly troublesome for those attempting to interpret results from published field studies where fan-cut terrace, truncated alluvial fan, toe-cut alluvial fan, alluvial terrace, and incision of the lower end of a fan piedmont all refer to the same genetic landform. We call for use of the term “toe-cut terrace” to represent this landform. We also present criteria to aid in the identification of toe-cut terraces, defined as an abandoned alluvial surface, formed by the truncation of the distal portion of tributary alluvial fans by streams flowing obliquely or perpendicular to the fan surface. Truncation occurs through lateral erosion (“toe-cutting”) or through vertical incision by the trunk drainage lowering the base-level of the alluvial fan. This results in incision into the fan surface abandoning the fan’s depositional surface at a higher level above the modern floodplain – a form that often resembles a fluvial terrace. A case study from the Sonoran Desert in central Arizona illustrates a sequence of abandoned alluvial surfaces that resemble fluvial terraces, but use of the proposed criteria reveal the presence of both toe-cut terraces and traditional fluvial terraces formed by the abandonment of the rivers former floodplain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-439
Number of pages23
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 10 2015


  • alluvial fan
  • desert geomorphology
  • drainage basin evolution
  • fluvial terrace
  • toe-cut terrace

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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