Active Research Projects and Research Ideas

To a large degree, my active research projects mirror those of my graduate students.
Read on to learn about the recent activities of our research group.

(1) Geomorphic geodesy of CEUS intraplate seismicity

(2) Active Tectonics of Sicily

(3) Neogene-Quaternary fluvial stratigraphy of the Appalachian Piedmont

(4) Neogene-Quaternary sedimentology, stratigraphy, soils and (paleo)climate

(5) Fluvial terrace genesis, long profiles, knickpoints, and incision

Long standing, ongoing, research interests

(6) Active Tectonic, Thermochronologic, and Long Term Landscape Evolution Research in the Appalachians

(7) Active Tectonic Research in Italy I - NSF RETREAT (REtreating TRench, Extension, and Accretion Tectonics)

(8) Italy - Apennines research II - Milankovitch encoding and unsteadiness of tectonic processes

(9) Active Tectonics of Crete

(10) Rivers, landuse, and the human dimension

(11) Geologic Research in the Rocky Mountains

(12) Geologic Mapping

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(1) Geomorphic geodesy of CEUS intraplate seismicity (NSF-EAR 1202798; USGS EDMAP G13AC0015; USGS-EHP G15AP00092).

Summary:  The M5.8 Mineral, VA earthquake of 24 August, 2011 was a sobering reminder of how little we really understand about intraplate seismicity, and specifically, the geologic, geodynamic, and gephysical processes that drive intraplate seismicity in the central and eastern U.S.  Along with colleagues Anne Meltzer (Lehigh, seismology), Bill Holt (SUNY Stony Brook geodynamics), Matt Pritchard and Rowena Lohman (Cornell, geodesy), Seth Stein (Northwestern, geodesy, seismology, earthquake hazards), Claudio Berti (Lehigh, tectonic geomorphology), and David Smith (DaVinci Science Center, science outreach) we aim to define a systems-level description of CEUS intraplate seismicity (Figure 1), and test that conceptual framework with geodynamic models that predict stress concentrations (Figure 2).  The predictions made by the geodynamic models are testable with lithospheric revealed by a strategically located, dense seismic network (Figure 3) and GPS, InSAR, and geomorphic geodetic observables (Figure 4).  I view this as a great venue for new graduate student research projects.

system model

Figure 1.  Conceptual, systems-level framework
of CEUS lithospheric and sub-lithospheric components,  linkages, and processes.

                                       crustal strain model

                                  Figure 2.  Modeled strain rate(blue=high strain) for two different crustal thickness models. In both cases, the 
                         Appalachian lithosphere has a lower model viscosity than the craton or Atlantic ocean. (Bill Holt).

Figure 3.  Examples of stratigraphic and geomorphic markers that are being used to document crustal deformation in CEUS.  (a) The Pliocene Orangeburg shoreline, (b) deformed river terraces (c) channel sinuosity, and (d) knickpoints and long profiles.

          fig 1
Figure 4.  Proposed seismic experiment (ENIGMA deployment) designed to characterize mid-Atlantic crustal and lithospheric structure spanning well-known seismic zones and interseismic gaps.


Wolin, E., Stein, S., Pazzaglia, F. J., Meltzer, A., Kafka, A., and Berti, C., 2012, Mineral, Virginia earthquake illustrates seismicity of a passive-aggressive margin: Geophysical Research Letters, 39, doi:10.1029/2011GL050310. PDF

Berti, C., Pazzaglia, F. J., Meltzer, A. S., and Harrison, R. J., 2014, Geomorphic evidence for persistent, cumulative deformation of the Virginia Piedmont in the vicinity of the 23 August, 2011 Mineral earthquake: Geological Society of America Special Paper, 509, doi:10.1130/2015.2509(21). PDF

Malenda, H., 2015, New Quaternary geochronometric constraints on river incision in the Virginia Piedmont: Relative contributions of climate, base level fall, knickpoint retreat, and active tectonics: M.S. Thesis, Bethlehem, PA, 89 p.  PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J. and Carter, M., 2015, Geomorphology, active tectonics, and landscape evolution in the Mid-Atlantic Region, in Brezinski, D. K., Halka, J. P., and Ortt, R. A. Jr., eds., Tripping from the Fall Line: Field Excursions for the GSA Annual Meeting, Baltimore, 2015, Geological Society of America Field Guide FLD40.  Non-copyedited Pre-Print.

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(2) Active tectonics of Sicily

Summary:  Well...Sicily is a pretty spectacular place, geology and active tectonics notwithstanding.  Along with my colleagues at the University of Catania, Stefano Catalano and Francesco Pavano, we are looking to learn more about the steadiness of tectonic forcing, geomorphic response, erosion rates over Pleistocene time scales, and the non-linear relationship between erosion and normalized steepness of long profiles.  Our research collaboration is in its early stages, but we are enthusiastic about what we can learn from this remarkable island located in a complex plate boundary setting.  Bestiale!   There are emerging opportunities here for graduate research.


Etna, looking east from central Sicily, near Enna.
Map showing tectonic setting of Sicily. 

pavano 9

Preliminary results of a knickpoint celerity model that predicts the age of knickpoints on east-flowing rivers in NE Sicily.  (a) Comparison of the elevations of modeled knickpoints projected to the coast, and dated marine terraces. (b) Modeled knickpoint age and marine terrace age. (c) Knickpoint distance from coast as a function of drainage area.


Pavano, F., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Catalano, S., in prep, Knickpoints as geomorphic markers of active tectonics: A case in NE Sicily.

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(3) Neogene-Quaternary stratigraphy of the Appalachian Piedmont (USGS EDMAP G13AC0015).

Summary:  The fluvial stratigraphy of the Appalachian Piedmont and Inner Coastal Plain, long a research interest of mine, has a renewed focus given the detailed investigations of the South Anna River following the Mineral Earthquake in 2011.  New OSL ages are helping build a complex stratigraphy of this slowly eroding landscape where river incision appears to be growing relief against a backdrop of epeirogeny, eustatic fall, and local intraplate seismicity.  Me and my colleagues including Mark Carter (USGS), Tammy Rittenour (Utah State), and Jane Willenbring (UPenn) have a growing research agenda here with many opportunities for graduate students.

fig 39
1:24,000 scale geologic mapping of river terraces (in red) by M.S. student Helen Malenda along the South Anna River provides the foundational observations for building a Piedmont fluvial stratigraphic model.

Excellent exposures of terrace alluvium, like this one at Virginia Vermiculite, provide material for OSL ages.

sanna lithostrat
That leads to constructing a fluvial stratigraphy on the footwall (left) and hanging wall (right) of the fault that ruptured in the 2011 earthquake.

And an emerging picture of how the terraces might be correlated along the South Anna River valley.  Numbers are OSL ages in ka.


Pazzaglia, F. J. and Carter, M., 2015, Geomorphology, active tectonics, and landscape evolution in the Mid-Atlantic Region, in Brezinski, D. K., Halka, J. P., and Ortt, R. A. Jr., eds., Tripping from the Fall Line: Field Excursions for the GSA Annual Meeting, Baltimore, 2015, Geological Society of America Field Guide FLD40. Non-copyedited Pre-Print.

Malenda, H. F. and Pazzaglia, F. J., in prep., River terraces, long profiles, knickpoints, and intraplate seismicity in the Virginia Piedmont.

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(4) Neogene-Quaternary sedimentology, stratigraphy, soils, and paleoclimate.

Summary:  In all of the landscapes that I have worked, I have been fascinated by the Neogene-Quaternary stratigraphy, sedimentology, and (paleo)soils of mostly unconsolidated deposits and the implications these deposits have for paleoenvironments and paleoclimates.  In a warming world where CO2 levels are at 400 ppm and climbing, it is not lost on anyone that super interglacials of the middle Pleistocene, perhaps like OIS 11, and pre-glacial warm periods, like the middle Pliocene, are good analogs for the world our kids and grandkids are going to inherit.  The more we learn about these paleoenvironments now, the better prepared we are for what seems to be a warmer future.  Along with my college Steve Peters (Lehigh, geochemistry) and M.S. student Laura Markley, we are beginning to explore paleoenvironmental conditions of the middle Pleistocene and Mio-Pliocene for ancient deposits preserved in the Appalachians and on the Inner Coastal Plain of the mid-Atlantic region.  We are looking for more students who want to pursue similar projects.


Oblique-air view, from Google Earth, of an alluvial fan spilling out of South Mountain onto the floor of the Great Valley, at Mainsville, PA. Gravel quarry operations offer access to the
Neogene-Quaternary stratigraphy of these Appalachian surficial deposits.


Sedimentology, stratigraphy, soils, and geochemistry of Mainsville fan deposits.  The oxylate iron (FeO) to dithinoite iron (FeD) ratio is a relative measure of pedogenic iron crystallinity, and hence, soil age.


Comparison of the FeO/FeD ratio for a number of soils formed in old alluvium and colluvium in the Mid-Atlantic region (gray bars).  The Mainsville deposits are labeled MV.

taylor poster

Click to download a recent undergraduate student project that collected some of the preliminary data we are using in this research.


Pazzaglia, F. J., Robinson, R., and Traverse, A., 1997, Palynology of the Bryn Mawr Formation (Miocene): Insights on the age and genesis of middle Atlantic margin fluvial deposits: Sedimentary Geology, v. 108, p. 19-44. PDF

Pederson, J. P., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Smith, G., 2000, Ancient hillslope deposits: Missing links in the study of climate controls on sedimentation: Geology, v. 28, p. 27-30. PDF

Pederson, J. L., Smith, G. A., and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2001, Comparing the modern, Quaternary, and Neogene records of climate-controlled hillslope sedimentation in Southeast Nevada: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 113, no. 3, p. 305-319. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J. and Hawley, J. W., 2004, Neogene (rift flank) and Quaternary geology and Geomorphology in, Mack, G. and Giles, K., eds., The Geology of New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society Special Publication 11, Albuquerque, NM, p. 407-437. PDF  PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J., 2014, Brief thoughts on long-term landscape evolution in the mid-Atlantic region with a focus on the Pond Bank lignite, in Anthony, R., Pennsylvania's Great Valley and bordering mountains near Carlisle: Guidebook, 79 th Annual Field Conference of Pennsylvania Geologists, 23-34. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J., Peters, S. C., and Cummins, K. T., 2014, Late Cenozoic sedimentology, stratigraphy, and pedogenesis of the Furnace Creek fan exposed in the Valley Quarries pit, Mainsville, PA, in Anthony, R., Pennsylvania's Great Valley and bordering mountains near Carlisle: Guidebook, 79 th Annual Field Conference of Pennsylvania Geologists, 101-112. PDF

Blake, J. M., Dykman, J. N., Peters, S. C., and Pazzaglia, F.J., in prep., A pedologic, geomorphic, and geochemical approach to understanding weathering in the Critical Zone in central PA.

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(5) Fluvial terrace genesis, long profiles, knickpoints, and incision.

Summary: Rivers and terraces represent the core data set that my students and I collect to understand landscape evolution, climate change, and active tectonics.  I am interested in working with any student that wants to forward our understanding of how rivers make terraces and what modulated unsteadiness in river incision.  I am particularly interested in modeling the processes that carve straths.  This research involves a good deal of field work and integration of Quaternary geochronology such as OSL and cosmogenics.  I have numerous collaborators on these projects, all listed as co-authors in the publications below.

 reno     tetons     susquehanna        jemez

Photos clockwise from upper left: strath and strath terrace at Marzabotto, Italy; outwash terraces in from Snake River Overlook, Grand Teton N.P.; straths and strath terraces, Holtwood Gorge, Susquehanna River, PA; terraces of the Jemez valley, New Mexico. 

wegmann pazzaglia 2002 

pazzaglia 2013 jemez

  (Above) Holocene strath forming intervals for the Clearwater River, Washington State.
(Below) Terrace formation and long-term incision for the Jemez River, New Mexico.


Gardner, T. W., Hare, P. W., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Sasowsky, I. D., 1987, Evolution of drainage systems along a convergent plate margin, Pacific Coast, Costa Rica, in Graf, W. L., ed., Geomorphic systems of North America: The Geology of North America, Decade of North American Geology, Geological Society of America, special centennial volume 2, Boulder, Colorado, p. 357-372. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J. and Gardner, T. W., 1993, Fluvial terraces of the lower Susquehanna River: Geomorphology, v.8, p.83-113. PDF

Formento-Trigilio, M. L. and Pazzaglia, F.J., 1998, Tectonic geomorphology of Sierra Nacimiento; traditional and new techniques in assessing long-term landscape evolution of the southern Rocky Mountains: Journal of Geology, v. 106, p. 433-453. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J., Gardner, T. W., and Merritts, D., 1998, Bedrock fluvial incision and longitudinal profile development over geologic time scales determined by fluvial terraces, in Wohl, E. and Tinkler, K., eds., Bedrock Channels: American Geophysical Union, Geophysical Monograph Series, v. 107, p. 207-235.  PDF

Zaprowski, B. J., Evenson, E. B., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Epstein, J., 2001, Knickzone propagation in the Black Hills and northern High Plains; a different perspective on the late Cenozoic exhumation of the Laramide Rocky Mountains: Geology, v. 29, no. 6, p. 547-550. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J. and Brandon, M. T., 2001, A fluvial record of long-term steady-state uplift and erosion across the Cascadia forearc high, western Washington State: American Journal of Science, v. 301, no. 4-5, p. 385-43. PDF

Wegmann K. and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2002, Holocene strath terraces, climate change, and active tectonics: the Clearwater River basin, Olympic Peninsula, Washington State: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 114, n.6, p. 731-744.  PDF

Wisniewski, P. and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2002, Epeirogenic controls on Canadian River incision and landscape evolution, High Plains of northeastern New Mexico: Journal of Geology, v. 110, n. 4, p. 437-456. PDF

Tomkin, J.H., Brandon, M.T., Pazzaglia, F.J., Barbour, J.R., Willett, S.D., 2003, Quantitative testing of bedrock incision models, Clearwater River, NW Washington State, Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 108, no. B6, 2308, doi:10.1029/2001JB000862. PDF

Etheredge, D., Gutzler, D. S., and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2004, Geomorphic response to seasonal variations in rainfall in the Southwest United States: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 116, p. 606-618. PDF

Pearce, S. A., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Eppes, M. C., 2004, Ephemeral stream response to growing folds: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 116, p. 1223-1239. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J., 2005, River responses to Ice Age (Quaternary) climates in New Mexico, in Lucas, S. G., Morgan, G. S., and Zeigler, K. E., eds., New Mexico’s Ice Ages: New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin No 28., p. 115-124. PDF

Zaprowski, B., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Evenson, E. B., 2005, Climatic influences on profile concavity and river incision: Journal of Geophysical Research – Earth Surface, v. 110, F03004, doi:10.1029/2004JF000138. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J., J. Selverstone, M. Roy, K Steffen, S. Newland-Pearce, W. Knipscher, and J. Pearce, 2007, Geomorphic expression of midcrustal extension in convergent orogens: Tectonics, 26, TC6010, doi:10.1029/2006TC001961. PDF

Wegmann, K. and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2009, Late Quaternary fluvial terraces of the Romagna and Marche Apennines, Italy: Climatic, lithologic, and tectonic controls on terrace genesis in an active orogen: Quaternary Science Reviews, 28, 137-165. PDF

Pazzaglia F.J., 2013, Fluvial Terraces, in, John F. Shroder (Editor-in-chief), Wohl, E. (Volume Editor), Treatise on Geomorphology, Vol 9, Fluvial Geomorphology, San Diego: Academic Press, p. 379-412.  PDF

or PDF

Gallen, S. F., Pazzaglia, F.J., Wegmann, K.W., Pederson, J.L., Gardner, T.W., 2015, The dynamic reference frame of rivers and apparent transience in incision rates: Geology,v. 43, no. 43, p. 623-626, doi:10.1130/G36692.1.  PDF

Parallel Process Studies: I have had a long-standing research interest in the Pacific Northwest (see Pazzaglia and Brandon, 2001, Wegmann and Pazzaglia, 2002, Tomkin et al., 2003) and our most recent foray to this great field location is to use cosmogenics and sediment gauge data to unravel sediment transport rates, watershed-scale erosion rates, and hillslope processes.  The key goal in this research is to document and quantify the strong suspicion that the erosion rate you measure based on the inventory of cosmogenic 10Be in stream alluvium depends on the grain size fraction investigated.  This grain size effect is linked to the distribution of hillslope processes in a watershed.  We are once again investigating the Clearwater drainage basin because we have good independent estimates for what the long-term erosion rates should be and we can rather simply understand the spatial distribution of creep-dominated vs. landslide dominated hillslopes.  My collaborators on these projects are Patrick Belmont, John Gosse, Ed Evenson, and Mark Brandon.

clearwater    belmont cosmo data


Left: The Clearwater basin, sampling locations, and preliminary erosion rates.  Right: Erosion rates for Miller and Wilson creeks.  Note the differences in rates as a function of grain size and sampling location (headwaters vs stream mouth).  Detailed interpretation of these data are explained below in the Belmont et al publication.


Pearce, J. P., Pazzaglia, F. J., Evenson, E. B., Germanoski, D., Alley, R., Lawson, D., and Denner, J., 2003, Bedload component of glacially discharged sediment: Insights from the Matanuska Glacier: Geology, v. 31, p. 7-10. PDF

Belmont, P., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Gosse, J. C., 2007, Cosmogenic 10Be as a tracer for hillslope and channel sediment dynamics: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 264, 123-135.  PDF

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(6) Active Tectonic, Thermochronologic, and Long Term Landscape Evolution Research in the Appalachians (NSF-EAR 9909393)

Summary:  The Appalachian Mountains provide a setting where we can investigate the long-term erosion of an orogen that has persisted for hundreds of millions of years.  We link geomorphic studies using field and GIS/DEM data with apatite U-Th/He thermochronologic studies.  What we are learning is that long-term rates of erosion have been very slow in the Appalachians and are probably characterized by rates on the order of 10 to 20 m/m.y.  The Appalachian landscape continues to evolve, as indicated by non-steady shifts in drainage divides between major transverse rivers, but the lag-times in such a slowly eroding system are so large, that there exists a wide range of fluvial disequilibrium.  We are currently testing the possibility that large volumes of late Tertiary offshore sediment are link primarily to these drainage-divide adjustments, perhaps linked to a geodynamic process, rather than global climate change.  I'm conducting this research with Peter Zeitler, Bruce Idleman, Ryan McKeon, and Eva Enkelmann


History of post-orogenic erosion in the Appalachians illustrating unsteadiness and possible epeirogenic and geomorphic processes driving that unsteadiness.  (a) Cross-section oriented orthogonal to the New Jersey continental shelf showing the accumulation of siliclastic detritus eroded from the post-orogenic Appalachians and preserved in the Baltimore Canyon trough (BCT) (Pazzaglia and Brandon, 1996).  (b) Detrital AHe data from New England, representative of an Appalachian-wide data set that argues for broad cooling of the rocks at the surface at 100 Ma.  (c) Unsteadiness in post-orogenic Appalachian erosion reconstructed from (a) and expressed as the flux of eroded rock (left axis) and erosion rate (right axis) for a contributing basin equal to the modern Atlantic Slope watershed of 300,000 km2 (Pazzaglia and Brandon, 1996). The shaded region under the curve amounts to 2 km equivalent of rock removed from the Appalachians which represents all of Cenozoic, and a small portion of the Cretaceous section shown in the transparent window in (a).  Accounting for dissolution of ~10m/m.y. over the past 100 m.y., 1 km of rock has been dissolved, added to 2 km of rock by erosion, sums to 3 km of rock removed in 100 m.y.  Thus, the BCT and thermochronologic data agree in the total amount of post-orogenic erosion; however, even the AHe data are insensitive to the nearly order of magnitude variation in erosion unsteadiness in the past 100 Ma.  Unsteadiness may be linked to lithospheric processes like (d) margin flexure (Pazzaglia and Gardner, 2000, BR = Blue Ridge, AE = Allegheny Escarpment, CFA = Cape Fear Arch, NA = Norfolk Arch, SE = Salisbury Embayment), or (e) geomorphic unsteadiness in the westward migration of the continental divide (Harbor and Gunnell, 2007) driven by sub-lithospheric dynamic mantle flow (Forte et al., 2008; Moucha et al., 2008).

mckeon1    mckeon2

Our most recent effort has been spearheaded by Ryan McKeon as his Ph.D. work.  The maps on the left summarize AHe cooling ages for the Appalachians. The graph on the right are modeled cooling paths for a valley bottom (red) and ridge top (blue) in the Plott Balsams range in the Southern Blue Ridge.  We would interpret a growth in relief of this landscape of ~15 m/Ma during the Cretaceous, when the samples experienced different cooling rates.  See McKeon et al., 2013 for all data and details.


Pazzaglia, F. J., 1993, Stratigraphy, petrography, and correlation of late Cenozoic middle Atlantic Coastal Plain deposits: Implications for late-stage passive margin geologic evolution, Geol. Soc. of Am. Bull., v.105, p.1617-1634. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J. and Gardner, T. W., 1994, Late Cenozoic flexural deformation of the middle U.S. Atlantic passive margin: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 99, n. B6, p. 12,143-12,157.  PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J. and Brandon, M. T., 1996, Macrogeomorphic evolution of the post-Triassic Appalachian Mountains determined by deconvolution of the offshore basin sedimentary record: Basin Research, 8, 255-278. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J., Robinson, R., and Traverse, A., 1997, Palynology of the Bryn Mawr Formation (Miocene): Insights on the age and genesis of middle Atlantic margin fluvial deposits: Sedimentary Geology, v. 108, p. 19-44. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J. and Gardner, T. W., 2000, Late Cenozoic large-scale landscape evolution of the U.S. Atlantic passive margin, in Summerfield, M. ed., Geomorphology and Global Tectonics: John Wiley, New York, p.283-302. PDF  PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J., 2003, Landscape evolution models, in Gillespie, A. R., Porter, S. C., and Atwater, B. F., eds., The Quaternary Period in the United States: Amsterdam, Elsevier, p. 247-274, doi:10.1016/S1571-0866(03)01012-1. PDF

Pazzaglia et al, 2006, Rivers, glaciers, landscape evolution and active tectonics of the central Appalachians, Pennsylvania and Maryland: Geological Society of America Field Guide 8, p. 169-197.  PDF

Frankel et al., 2007, GSABulletin, Knickpoint evolution in a vertically-bedded substrate, upstream-dipping terraces, and Atlantic Slope bedrock channels.  PDF

McKeon, R. E., Zeitler, P. K., Pazzaglia, F. J., Idleman, B. D., and Enkelmann, E., 2013 Decay of an old orogen: Inferences about Appalachian landscape evolution from low-temperature thermochronology: GSABull, doi:10.1130/B30808.1  PDF


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    (7) RETREAT (REtreating TRench, Extension,
and Accretion Tectonics) CD project

 Apennines of Northern and Central Italy
(NSF EAR-0207980)and related spin-off projects


Summary:  The Italian Apennines offer a great natural laboratory to investigate concurrent crustal shortening and extension in an uplifted forearc where the basic geologic and structural relationships are well known.  From 2003 through 2008, an interdisciplinary and international geologic, tectonic, thermochronologic, geodynamic, geomorphic, geophysical, and geodetic team are focused on understanding the subducted slab rollback process and it role in creating mountainous topography during or following the major phase of crustal thickening.  The geomorphic experiment targeted several rivers, particularly the Reno River, where terrace mapping, fault mapping, geodetics, and cosmogenically-determined ages and erosion rates demonstrated continued shortening in the Apennine pro-wedge.  This shortening is accommodated by deep underplating and highly localized thrust and normal faults at shallower crustal levels both of which are occurring rear of the deformation front.  We continue to test the possibility that deformation has followed this out-of-sequence behavior because the thrust front has been buried by Quaternary sediment overfilling the Po foreland, thus reducing the critical taper of the wedge.  The project is now complete, but collaborations, spin-off, and publications continue.  My main collaborators in this project were, and continue to be Mark Brandon, Sean Willett, Vincenzo Picotti, Darryl Granger, Darrel Cowan, Martha Cary Eppes, Karl Wegmann, Rick Bennett, Mauro Coltorti, Francesco Dramis, Paola Molin, Matteo Spagnolo, Alessio Ponza, Pier Paolo Bruno, Alessandra Ascione, and Mimmo Capolongo.


Left figure: Color DEM of Italy and surrounding sea bathymetry.  Middle figure: River terraces preserved along the Reno River near Bologna.  Right Figure: Contact between terrace gravel and bedrock.


Left figure: Terrace and fault map for the Reno valley; Middle figure: correlation of deformed strata across the Apennine mountain front near Bologna; Right figure: Colfiorito - the site of the 1997 "Assisi" Earthquake

Early (and almost certainly incorrect) interpretation of a high resolution seismic line that we have collected across the Bologna mountain front near Ponte Ronca.  We have since reprocessed the data resulting in better reflectors and a new interpretation.  A paper describing this line and our findings is in prep.


Terrace map produced by M.S. student Luke Wilson.



Friends, co-workers, and cool places in the Reno valley.


Molin, P., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Dramis, F., 2004, Geomorphic expression of active tectonics in a rapidly-deforming forearc, Sila Massif, Calabria, southern Italy: American Journal of Science, v. 304, p. 559-589.  PDF

Spagnolo, M. and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2005, Testing the geological influences on the evolution of river profiles: A case from the northern Apennines (Italy): Geogr. Fi. Dinam. Quat., 28, 103-113. PDF

Frankel, K. L. and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2005, Tectonic geomorphology, drainage basin metric, and active mountain fronts: Geogr. Fi. Dinam. Quat., 28, 7-21.  PDF

Picotti, V. and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2008, A new active tectonic model for the construction of the Northern Apennines mountain front near Bologna (Italy): Journal of Geophysical Research, 113, doi:10.1029/2007JB005307.  PDF

Eppes, M. C., Bierma, R., Vinson, D., and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2008, A soil chronosequence study of the Reno valley, Italy: insights into the relative role of climate verses anthropogenic forcing on hillslope processes during the mid-Holocene: Geoderma, 147, 97-107. PDF

Wilson, L., Pazzaglia, F. J., Anastasio, D. J., 2009, A fluvial record of active fault-propagation folding, Salsomaggiore anticline, northern Apennines, Italy: Journal of Geophysical Research, 114, doi:10.1029/2008JB005984.  PDF

Picotti, V., Ponza, A., and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2009, Topographic expression of active faults in the foothills of the northern Apennines: Tectonophysics, 474, 285-294. PDF

Wegmann, K. W. and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2009, Late Quaternary fluvial terraces of the Romagna and Marche Apennines, Italy: Climatic, lithologic, and tectonic controls on terrace genesis in an active orogen: Quaternary Science Reviews, 28, 137-165,
doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2008.10.006. PDF

Ponza, A., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Picotti, V., 2010, Thrust-fold activity at the mountain front of the northern Apennines (Italy) from quantitative landscape analysis: Geomorphology, 123, 211-231. PDF

Bruno, P. P., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Picotti, V., 2011, High-resolution shallow imaging of the northern Apennines mountain front near Bologna, Italy, using wide-aperature shallow seismic reflection data: Geophysical Research Letters, 38, L16302, doi:10.1029/2011GL047828.  PDF

Ferraris, F., Firpo, M., and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2012, DEM analyses and morphotectonic interpretation: The Plio-Quaternary evolution of the eastern Ligurian Alps, Italy: Geomorphology, doi: 10.1016/j.gemorph.2012.01.009. PDF

DiNaccio, D., Boncio, P., Brozzetti, F., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Lavecchia, G., 2013, Morphotectonic analysis of the Lunigiana and Garfagnana grabens (northern Apennines, Italy): Implications for active normal faulting: Geomorphology, 201, 293-311. PDF

Giachetta, E., Refice, A., Copolongo, D., Gasparini, N., and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2014, Orogen-scale drainage network evolution and response to erodibility changes: insights from numerical experiments: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 39, 1259-1268. PDF

List of all Project RETREAT papers:

coming soon!

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(8) Italy - Apennines research II - Milankovitch encoding and unsteadiness of tectonic processes

Summary: We are able to document unsteadiness in the growth of folds cored by blind thrusts along the Apennine mountain front.  We have discovered that the magnetic susceptibility in a section of Messinian-Pleistocene marine mudstone varies at Milankovitch frequencies, allowing us to see unsteadiness in fault slip and growth strata tilt at 23, 41, and 100 kyr timescales.  This study provides a rare opportunity to link  unsteadiness at geologic and geodetic scales.  We are in the process of comparing the unsteadiness of two unconnected structures to see if there are any feedbacks and temporal overlap caused presumably by surficial processes.  We are also trying to understand how these magnetic signals and Milankovitch fidelity are being encoded into the rocks.  I am doing the research collaboratively with Dave Anastasio, Ken Kodama, Andrea Artoni, and Vincenzo Picotti.  All of this work is part of the Ph.D. dissertation of Kellen Gunderson.


Left to Right: Example of growth strata exposed in the Stirone River, variability in magnetic susceptibility and the geomagnetic time scale, and Milankovitch-tuned folding unsteadiness.

Growth strata along the Enza River, San Paolo d'Enza, Italy.


Gunderson, K. L., Pazzaglia, F. J., Picotti, V., Anastasio, D. J., Kodama, K. P., Rittenour, T., Franke, K. F., Ponza, A., Berti, C., Negri, A., and Sabbatini, A., 2014, Unraveling tectonic and climatic controls on synorogenic stratigraphy: Geological Society of America Bulletin, 126, 532-552.  PDF

Gunderson, K. L., Anastasio, D. J., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Picotti, V., 2013, Fault slip rate variability on 104-105 yr timescales for the Salsomaggiore blind thrust fault, Northern Apennines, Italy: Tectonophysics, 609, 356-365. PDF

Gunderson, K. L., Anastasio, D. J., Kodama, K. P., and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2012, Rock-magnetic cyclostratigraphy for the late Pleistocene Stirone section, northern Apennine mountain front, Italy, in Jovane, L., Housen, B., Herrero-Berrera, E., and Hinnov, L., eds., Temporal variation of geological processes revealed by magnetic methods: Geological Society of London, Special Publication 373, doi:10.1144/SP373.8  PDF

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(9) Active Tectonics of Crete

Summary:  The island of Crete rises precipitously out of the south-central Mediterranean Sea to peak elevations of ~ 2400 m.  It is the highest-standing part of the Hellenic forearc, and active, north-verging subduction zone accommodating the convergence of Europe and Africa.  By all conventional thinking, the forearc should be high-standing because of crustal thickening linked to the convergence.  So what are the only faults that can be easily found and described on Crete both high angle and low-angle normal faults?  We suspect that the easily mapped faults reflect crustal thinning at shallow levels in response to a deeper-seated inflation driven by underplating.  We are in the process of testing this hypothesis through a geomorphic and geodetic study of uplifted marine terraces that tend to be very well preserved along the western and southern coast of the island.  We are also investigating the origin of a  large earthquake in 365 AD that left a distinct bath-tub ring notch around much of the island.  My collaborators with me on this project are Karl Wegmann, Sean GallenMark Brandon, and Babbis Fassoulas.


Marine terraces in Crete are pretty spectacular.


And the gorges are gorgeous.

gallen crete

This is a great figure from the Gallen et al. 2014 paper  that shows the tectonic setting of the Crete forearc high.


Gallen, S. F., Wegmann, K. W., Bohnenstiehl, Pazzaglia, F. J., Brandon, M. T., and Fassoulas, C., 2014, Active simultaneous uplift and margin-normal extension in a forearc high, Crete, Greece: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 398, 11-24. PDF

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(10) Rivers, land use, and the human dimension

Summary:  There has been an explosion in the industry of "stream restoration" with the emphasis placed on channel reaches that either are aesthetically unpleasing, ecologically dysfunctional, or simply do not contain the desired density of fish.  There is another way to approach the interaction of rivers and people and it involves (1) building a deep-time and historic record of channel behavior, (2) documenting channel geometry in the context of the entire watershed, and (3) carefully quantifying how discharge scales with drainage area.  We have discovered that the often-cited assumption that discharge scales linearly with drainage area is not true for watersheds under strong urban/suburban development pressure.  This is the first indication, to our knowledge for a simple quantitative link between discharge characteristics and land developmental pressure.

These results have lead us to begin thinking about how carbon is fixed, sequestered, metabolized, and transported in watersheds.  Particularly, we are taking advantage of natural (virgin) and impacted watersheds in Pennsylvania to develop a biogeomorphologic model of these fluxes and processes.  My collaborators on these projects are Josh Galster, Chris Dempsey, Patrick Belmont, Don Morris, Bruce Hargreaves, Ben Felzer, and Steve Peters.



Galster et al., 2006, Effects of urbanization on watershed hydrology: The scaling of discharge with drainage area: Geology, v. 34, p. 713-716.  PDF

Galster, J. C., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Germanoski, D., 2008, Measuring the impacts of watershed urbanization on channel widths using historic aerial photographs and modern surveys: JAWRA, 44, 1-13.  PDF

Belmont, P., Morris, D. P., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Peters, S. C., 2009, Penetration of ultraviolet radiation in streams of eastern Pennsylvania: Topographic controls and the role of suspended particulates: Aquatic Sciences, DOI 10.1007/s00027-009-9120-7. PDF

Dempsey, C. M., Morris, D. P., Pazzaglia, F. J., Peters, S. C., and O'Connor, B., submitted, Linking soils to streams: Using organic carbon age and dissolved organic carbon biolability during storm events: Biogeochemistry. 

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(11) Geologic Research in the Rocky Mountains

Summary:  I have a long-standing interest in Rocky Mountain Geology and Geomorphology and continue to participate in many projects, many of which are unfunded, but nevertheless continue to interest students.  I have some key partners in this research at  the University of New Mexico.  I also am piggy-backing some of this research on my yearly migration west for Lehigh Field Camp.  The research is being conducted in New Mexico (Rio Grande rift), Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, (including Yellowstone-Grand Teton National Parks).

The Rio Grande rift is one of only a handful of continental rifts in the world.  The rift flanks and basin fill are very well exposed providing an outstanding natural laboratory for the study of active tectonics, tectonic geomorphology, and Neogene basin stratigraphy.  These research topics have a broad general interest and important applied overtones as they pertain directly to issues that affect people.  A large percentage of the population base in the American Southwest lives on or around the Rio Grande - one of the few perennial water sources.  The tectonic evolution of the rift has controlled the architecture and hydrology of the aquifer that supplies large cities like Albuquerque, NM.  Only through and integration of the geomorphology, paleontology, and sedimentology of the basin fill have we finally begun to get a handle on the complex rift-basin stratigraphy.  Further studies, some of which are in progress, are beginning to characterize the seismic hazards of having large population centers in this tectonically active setting.

This is a photograph of a Quaternary fault scarp on the Borrego Canyon Road on Zia Pueblo.  The fault is just one of many that strike generally north-south along the western flank of the rift.  Although there are no written or oral traditions which speak to seismic activity in this region, the fault clearly cuts Quaternary gravels thought to be middle Pleistocene age.  Perhaps the recurrence times for these faults exceed the history of continuous human occupation for this region which is at least 1000 yrs.

This is a photograph of La Ceja (the eyebrow), an imposing north-facing escarpment where the basin fill which comprises the aquifer beneath Albuquerque is well-exposed.  Several years of mapping and detailed sedimentologic and stratigraphic work has brought us alot closer to understanding the geomorphic and sedimentologic response to tectonics.  This understanding lies at the core of current and future studies which are aimed at providing the answers to how to effectively manage a dwindling ground water resource as the population base of the rift continues to grow.  One of the important accomplishments of this collaborative research between UNM, the New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, the U.S. Geological Survey, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Pueblos of Jemez and Zia has been a redefinition of the basin fill stratigraphy..


Here are some great views of the Jemez valley where the successive mapping of John Rogers, Merri Lisa Formento-Trigilio, Kurt Frankel, and Amanda Ault have defined a wonderful terrace stratigraphy.  The relationship of the correlated terrace profiles (if we've done it right, we are still learning!) to the river long profile reveals the complex interactions between base level fall, climate-induced changes in stream concavity, and Jemez caldera uplift.


Field work in Montana includes investigations of the active range front fault of the Tendoy Mountains, shown here crossing Big Sheep Creek (upper photo), a great base camp up McKnight Canyon (left), and river terraces along Big Sheep Creek (right).

Wind River Range in western Wyoming.  I am interested in working on the age and genesis of the sub-summit surface and linking its origin to the Green River basin stratigraphy.


Recently, as a class project, a group of graduate students tackled the subject of dynamic topography and used Yellowstone as the key example of epeirogenic uplift and its geomorphic expression.  That project resulted in a publication and has spurred our interest to continue pursuing our understanding of crustal deformation processes away from plate boundaries.


Pazzaglia, F. J. and Wells, S. G., 1990, Quaternary stratigraphy, soils, and geomorphology of the northern Rio Grande rift: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 41, 423-430.  PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J. and Kelley, S. A., 1998, Large-scale geomorphology and fission-track thermochronology in topographic and exhumation reconstructions of the southern Rocky Mountains, in Karlstrom, ed., Lithospheric evolution of the Rocky Mountains: Rocky Mountain Geology, v. 33, n.2, p. 229-257. PDF

Karlstrom, K. E. et al., including Pazzaglia, F. J., 2002, Structure and Evolution of the Lithosphere Beneath the Rocky Mountains: Initial Results from the CD-ROM Experiment: GSAToday, v. 12, n. 3, p. 4-10. PDF

Koning, D. J., Connell, S. D., Pazzaglia, F. J., and McIntosh, W. C., 2002, Redefinition of the Ancha Formation and Pliocene-Pleistocene deposition in the Santa Fe embayment, north-central New Mexico: New Mexico Geology, v. 24, n. 3., p. 75-87. PDF

Roy, M., Kelley, S. A., Pazzaglia, F. J., Cather, S., and House, M., 2004, Middle Tertiary buoyancy modification and its relationship to rock exhumation, cooling, and subsequent extension at the eastern margin of the Colorado Plateau: Geology, v. 32, p. 925-928. PDF

Harkins, N. W., Anastasio, D. J., and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2005, Tectonic geomorphology of the Red Rock fault, insights into segmentation and landscape evolution of a developing range front normal fault: Journal of Structural Geology, v. 27, p. 1925-1939.  PDF

Regalla, C. A., Anastasio, D. J., and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2007, Characterization of the Monument Hill Fault system and implications for the active tectonics of the Red Rock Valley, southwestern Montana: Journal of Structural Geology, 29, 1339-1352.  PDF

Frankel, K. L. and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2006,  Mountain fronts, base level fall, and landscape evolution: Insights from the southern Rocky Mountains, in Willett, S. D., Hovius, N., Brandon, M. T., and Fisher, D. eds., Tectonics, climate, and landscape evolution: Geological Society of America Special Paper 398, p. 419-434 PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J. and Hawley, J. W., 2004, Neogene (rift flank) and Quaternary geology and Geomorphology in, Mack, G. and Giles, K., eds., The Geology of New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society Special Publication 11, Albuquerque, NM, p. 407-437.  PDF  PDF

Wegmann, K. W., Zureck, B. D., Regalla, C. A., Bilardello, D., Wolleburg, J. L., Kopczynski, S. E., Ziemann, J. M., Haight, S. L., Apgar, J. D., Zhao, C., and Pazzaglia, F. J., 2007, Position of the Snake River watershed divide as an indicator of geodynamic processes in the greater Yellowstone region, western North America: Geosphere, v. 3, p. 272-281. PDF

Anastasio, D. J., Majerowicz, C. N., Pazzaglia, F. J., and Regalla, C. A., 2010, Late Pleistocene – Holocene ruptures of the Lima Reservoir fault, SW Montana: Journal of Structural Geology, 32, 1996-2008, doi:10.1016/j.jsg.2010.08.012. PDF

Pazzaglia, F. J., 2005, River responses to Ice Age (Quaternary) climates in New Mexico, in Lucas, S. G., Morgan, G. S., and Zeigler, K. E., eds., New Mexico’s Ice Ages: New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin No 28., p. 115-124. PDF

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(12) Geologic Mapping

Geologic mapping has always been a important part of my research and the research of my students.  All of the above projects have strong mapping components.  In addition, we have begun a pilot project to link geologic mapping with broader educational and public outreach goals in mind.  Through cooperation and funding with STATEMAP and EDMAP programs, we have mapped Lehigh Gorge State Park (PA) and developed a web, inquiry-based, interactive, educational exercise that can be used by middle school science teachers in an Earth Science curriculum.  I current am doing most of my mapping in collaboration with Dave Anastasio and his students, Claudio Berti, and Mark Carter.  The central Virginia seismic zone has been the focus of my most recent mapping efforts.

Example of a surficial geologic map of river terraces, Clearwater River, Washington State.  Mapping by Karl Wegmann, see Wegmann and Pazzaglia, 2002.


Ponderosa, New Mexico 7.5 minute quadrangle surficial geologic map draped on digital shaded topography.  Mapping by Kurt Frankel.  See Frankel, 2002.     Full reference

helen map

Part of the surficial geologic map of the Ferncliff and Pendleton 7.5 minute quadrangles, mapped by M.S. student Helen Malenda for
EDMAP Project G13AC0015.

Click here for the ArcGIS files of this map.


Regalla et al., 2007, Red Rock Quad, MT


Lehigh Gorge Map and Educational Project

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