Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies


Coastal and Marine Systems Science


College of Science

First Advisor

Zhixiong Shen

Second Advisor

Robert Sheehan

Third Advisor

Eric Wright


Extreme river floods are the key force shaping floodplain landscape and a major process delivering sediment, pollutants, and nutrients to coasts. These devastating natural hazards pose concerns about potential change of extreme flood occurrence in the face of climate change. However, accurately assessing the impact of anthropogenic climate change and natural climate modes on the intensity and frequency of extreme flooding relies on multi-century discharge records. Unfortunately, instrumental records are relatively short (often <100 years) and overlap with times of dam and reservoir construction. Oxbow lakes, ubiquitous in the floodplains of alluvial rivers, may preserve an archive of extreme flood at centennial timescales as they capture coarser channel sediments transported by intensified river flows. This study has identified signals of extreme floods in oxbow lake sediments and established a timeline of past flooding events to evaluate change(s) in flood hazard near the Pee Dee River (PDR), South Carolina. Laser diffraction grain-size analysis and X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanning were performed on a ~2-m long piston core (SBL2) to identify event layers of extreme floods. CT images reveal high-density laminations and corresponding coarser shifts of grain size are interpreted as flood layers. A robust age-depth model was established for SBL2 using multiple independent age controls (C14, optically stimulated luminescence, Pb210/C137, and historical event tie-points). End-member modelling analysis was performed to identify a coarse component of the grain-size data used as a proxy of extreme flood. A linear relationship between end-member modelling results and measured discharge was established for the last 80 years and applied to the older part of the core yielding peak discharge estimates back to ca. AD 1840. This analysis identifies abrupt shifts in grain size resulting from dam construction, droughts, and local geomorphic changes to the river system. A multidecadal trend in the frequency of extreme floods is present in the PDR system, controlled by Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The most extreme peak annual discharges of the PDR occurred between AD 1870-1900 from the combined interaction of increased tropical cyclone activity with intensified land use for agricultural purposes. Peak annual discharges of the PDR seem to have decreased through time since flood control damming was completed in AD 1962.