River planform, soil stratigraphy and the temporal and palaeoenvironmental significance of terraced valley fill deposits in upland Scotland, with specific reference to Glen Feshie, south-west Cairngorms
River terraces form prominent features of the valley floor morphology of many upland valleys in Scotland. Little is known, however, about valley floor landform development in many of these valleys. Previous studies have generally explained the terraces as the outwash products of meltwaters from the most recent cold periods. Detailed investigation of a major valley in the Scottish Highlands challenges, for at least one site, this well established concept and proposes the occurrence of at least three phases of Holocene terrace development. The correlation of terrace surfaces has traditionally been based upon the construction of height-range diagrams. An alternative approach to terrace correlation and dating is developed in this study using data from Glen Feshie, south-west Cairngorms. Terrace fragments are numerically classified and objectively grouped using quantitative soil-stratigraphic data. Principal Components Analysis and a hierarchical clustering technique numerically define five soil-stratigraphic units and place these on a relative time scale. Various methods of absolute dating control permit association of these units with five phases of terrace development. These are placed at 13,000, 10,000, 3,600, 1,000, 80, radiocarbon years BP. Comparison of palaeochannel networks preserved on the terrace surfaces suggests that these phases of terrace development have been associated with changes in channel pattern morphology. A unified approach to analysis of channel pattern morphology is developed and from this a new technique for palaeohydrological interpretation of gravel-bed streams. A segment density index is developed which allows total sinuosity to be predicted from just a part of the braided channel network. Application of these techniques to the Glen Feshie terraces demonstrates a trend for an overall decrease in discharge from the oldest terrace surfaces to the present day. Assessment of these landform changes within the context of known environmental fluctuations in the Cairngorms suggests that the early-mid Holocene was a period of relative landscape stability while the late Holocene was characterised by increasing instability. These changes may have been associated with the changes in river behaviour. However, spatial variation in the depth of the fill/bedrock interface may produce a discontinuous river response to changing environmental conditions.