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Recycling sediments between source and sink during a eustatic cycle: Systems of late Quaternary northwestern Gulf of Mexico Basin
- Anderson, John B., Wallace, Davin J., Simms, Alexander R., Rodriguez, Antonio B., Weight, Robert W.R., Taha, Z. Patrick
- Earth-science reviews 2016 v.153 pp. 111-138
- basins, climate, climate change, coasts, continental shelf, estuaries, hinterland, islands, isotopes, rivers, sand, sea level, sediment traps, shorelines, subsidence, suspended sediment, temperature, valleys, watersheds, wind, Brazos River, Colorado, Colorado River, Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, Mississippi River, Texas
- The northwestern Gulf of Mexico Basin is an ideal natural laboratory to study and understand source-to-sink systems. An extensive grid of high-resolution seismic data, hundreds of sediment cores and borings and a robust chronostratigraphic framework were used to examine the evolution of late Quaternary depositional systems of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico throughout the last eustatic cycle (~125ka to Present). The study area includes fluvial systems with a wide range of drainage basin sizes, climate settings and water and sediment discharges. Detailed paleogeographic reconstructions are used to derive volumetric estimates of sediment fluxes (Volume Accumulation Rates). The results show that the response of rivers to sea-level rise and fall varied across the region. Larger rivers, including the former Mississippi, Western Louisiana (presumably the ancestral Red River), Brazos, Colorado and Rio Grande rivers, constructed deltas that advanced across the shelf in step-wise fashion during Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 5–2. Sediment delivery to these deltas increased during the overall sea-level fall due to increases in drainage basin area and erosion of sediment on the inner shelf, where subsidence is minimal, and transport of that sediment to the more rapidly subsiding outer shelf. The sediment supply from the Brazos River to its delta increased at least 3-fold and the supply of the Colorado River increased at least 6-fold by the late stages of sea-level fall through the lowstand. Repeated filling and purging of fluvial valleys from ~119–22ka contributed to the episodic growth of falling-stage deltas.During the MIS 2 lowstand (~22–17ka), the Mississippi River abandoned its falling-stage fluvial–deltaic complex on the western Louisiana shelf and drained to the Mississippi Canyon. Likewise, the Western Louisiana delta was abandoned, presumably due to merger of the Red River with the Mississippi River, terminating growth of the Western Louisiana delta. The Brazos River abandoned its MIS 3 shelf margin delta to merge with the Trinity, Sabine and Calcasieu rivers and together these rivers nourished a lowstand delta and slope fan complex. The Colorado and Rio Grande rivers behaved more as point sources of sediment to thick lowstand delta–fan complexes.Lowstand incised valleys exhibit variable morphologies that mainly reflect differences in onshore and offshore relief and the time intervals these valleys were occupied. They are deeper and wider than falling stage channel belts and are associated with a shelf-wide surface of erosion (sequence boundary).During the early MIS 1 (~17ka to ~10ka) sea-level rise, the offshore incised valleys of the Calcasieu, Sabine, Trinity, Brazos, Colorado, and Rio Grande rivers were filled with sediment. The offshore valleys of smaller rivers of central Texas would not be filled until the late Holocene, mainly by highstand mud. The lower, onshore portions of east Texas incised valleys were filled with sediment mainly during the Holocene, with rates of aggradation in the larger Brazos and Colorado valleys being in step with sea-level rise. Smaller rivers filled their valleys with back-stepping fluvial, estuarine and tidal delta deposits that were offset by flooding surfaces. In general, the sediment trapping capacity of bays increased as evolving barrier islands and peninsulas slowly restricted tidal exchange with the Gulf and valley filling led to more shallow, wider bays. A widespread period of increased riverine sediment flux and delta growth is attributed to climate change during MIS 1, between ~11.5 and 8.0ka, and occurred mainly under cool-wet climate conditions.Relatively small sea-level oscillations during the MIS 1 transgression (~17ka to ~4.0ka) profoundly influenced coastal evolution, as manifested by landward stepping shorelines, on the order of tens of kilometers within a few thousand years. The current barriers, strand plains and chenier plains of the study area formed at different times over the past ~8ka, due mainly to differences in sand supply and the highly variable relief on the MIS 2 surface on which these systems formed.Modern highstand deposition on the continental shelf formed the Texas Mud Blanket, which occurs on the central Texas shelf and records a remarkable increase in fine-grained sediment supply. This increase is attributed to greater delivery of sediments from the Colorado and Brazos rivers, which had filled their lower valleys and abandoned their transgressive deltas by late Holocene time, and to an increase in westward directed winds and surface currents that delivered suspended sediments from the Mississippi River to the Texas shelf.Collectively, our results demonstrate that source-to-sink analyses in low gradient basin settings requires a long-term perspective, ideally a complete eustatic cycle, because most of the sediment that was delivered to the basin by rivers underwent more than one cycle of erosion, transport and sedimentation that was regulated by sea-level rise and fall. Climate was a secondary control. The export of sediments from the hinterland to the continental shelf was not directly in step with temperature change, but rather varied between different fluvial–deltaic systems.