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Late Cenozoic flexural deformation of the middle U.S. Atlantic passive marginDespite the century-long recognition of regional epeirogeny along the middle Atlantic passive margin, relatively few studies have focused on understanding postrift uplift mechanisms. Here, we demonstrate that epeirogenic uplift of the central Appalachian Piedmont and subsidence of the Salisbury Embayment represent first-order, flexural isostatic processes driven by continental denudation and offshore deposition. Our results show that regional epeirogenic processes, present on all Atlantic-type passive margins, are best resolved by specific stratigraphic and geomorphic relationships, rather than topography. A simple one-dimensional geodynamic model, constrained by well-dated Baltimore Canyon trough, Coastal Plain, and lower Susquehanna River (piedmont) stratigraphy, simulates flexural deforamtion of the U.S. Atlantic margin. The model represents the passive margin lithosphree as a uniformly thick elastic plate, without horizontal compressive stresses, that deforms flexurally under the stress of strike-averaged, vertically applied line loads. Model results illustrate a complex interaction among margin stratigraphy and geomorphology, the isostatic repsonse to denudational and depositional processes, and the modulating influence of exogenic forces such as eustasy. The current elevation, with respect to modern sea level, of fluvial terraces and correlateive Coastal Plain deposits or unconformities is successfully predicted through the synthesis of paleotopography, eustatic change, and margin flexure. Results suggest that the middle U.S. Atlantic margin landward of East Coast Magnetic Anomaly is underlain by lithoshpere with an average elastic thickness of 40 km (flexural rigidity, D = 4 X 10(exp 23) N m), the margin experience an average, long-term denudation rate of approximately 10m/m.y., and the Piedmont has been flexurally upwaped between 35 and 130 meters in the last 15 m.y. Long term isostatic continental uplift resulting rom denudation and basin subsidence resulting rom sediment loading are accomodated primately by a convex-up flexural hinge, physiographically represented by the Fall Zone. Our results elucidate an inherent danger in using topography alone to constrain late-stage passive margin deformation mechanisms. Only through careful synthesis of field stratigraphic and geomorphic elements such as fluvial terraces, Coastal Plain deposits, and offshore stratigraphy can age control be extended from the offshore depositional setting to the erosionally dominated continent. This sudy demonstrates that despite a relatively subdued topography, the middle U.S. Atlantic margin experiences progressive flexural isostatic deformation similar to that proposed for high-relief margins characterized by great escarpments. Thus margin topographic diversity remains a function of other factors, such as lithospheric composition and/or structure, supracrustal stratigraphy and structure, degree of drainage integration, drainage divide migration and climate.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
External Source(s)
Pazzaglia, Frank J. (Pennsylvania State University University Park, Pennsylvania, United States)
Gardner, Thomas, W. (Pennsylvania State University University Park, Pennsylvania, United States)
Date Acquired
August 16, 2013
Publication Date
June 10, 1994
Publication Information
Publication: Journal of Geophysical Research
Volume: 99
Issue: B6
ISSN: 0148-0227
Subject Category
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits