Low-altitude periglacial activity in southeastern Australia during the late Pleistocene

Timothy T. Barrows, Stephanie C. Mills, Kathryn Fitzsimmons, Robert Wasson, Robert Galloway

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Only a small area of the Australian mainland was glaciated during the Pleistocene, whereas periglacial deposits are far more common, indicating that cold environments were extensive and a major influence on landscape evolution. Here we identify representative low-elevation examples of scree slopes and frost action, together with fans and valley fills, indicating pronounced erosion cycles during the Pleistocene. To date the deposits, we explore approaches using radiocarbon, optically stimulated luminescence, and profile dating using the cosmogenic nuclide 10Be. The radiocarbon and optical ages show that screes, alluvial valley fill, and fans were deposited between 66–13 ka during the coldest part of the last glacial cycle, and within the previous glacial cycle. Exposure dating indicates further landscape erosion cycles back to the mid Pleistocene. Together, the deposits indicate the frost cracking limit was ~1300 m lower at 680 ± 10 m and mean winter temperature was 8.2 ± 0.5°C colder than present. Periglacial conditions probably affected much of southeastern Australia. The treeless and dry conditions resulted in widespread erosion and increased run off. Combined with increased snow storage within catchments, rivers were paradoxically larger, with high seasonal discharge and sediment loads.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-146
Number of pages22
JournalQuaternary Research
Early online date28 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • Pleistocene
  • paleoclimatology
  • Australia
  • periglacial geomorphology
  • optically stimulated luminescence
  • cosmogenic nuclides
  • radiocarbon


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