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A mid-late Holocene tidally-influenced drainage system revealed by integrated remote sensing, sedimentological and stratigraphic data

Giacomelli, Serena, Rossi, Veronica, Amorosi, Alessandro, Bruno, Luigi, Campo, Bruno, Ciampalini, Andrea, Civa, Andrea, Hong, Wan, Sgavetti, Maria, de Souza Filho, Carlos Roberto
Geomorphology 2018 v.318 pp. 421-436
Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, Landsat, coastal plains, drainage, drainage systems, geographic information systems, landscapes, littoral zone, lowlands, models, paleoecology, peat, reflectance spectroscopy, remote sensing, river deltas, salt marshes, soil water, stratigraphy, swamps, Adriatic Sea, Italy
Despite the growing employment of Remote Sensing (RS) techniques in paleoenvironmental studies, the stratigraphic interpretation of RS-derived paleodrainage traces is still an open issue, as their relation to subsurface is largely unexplored. Here we applied a multi-data analysis approach, including publicly available optical images from different satellites (Landsat, ASTER, Sentinel, Hyperion), LiDAR-derived Digital Terrain Model (DTM), soil reflectance spectra and facies core data, which succeeded in revealing a paleodrainage system buried beneath a 200-sq km wide wetland (the Mezzano Lowland-ML) of the Po coastal plain (northern Adriatic Sea, Italy). Data integration in a GIS environment allowed the 3D mapping of numerous and temporally persistent meandering traces. From distal to proximal locations, the RS-derived traces show a hierarchical organization, in terms of sinuosity and width, and form a dense and dendritic pattern typical of a tidally-influenced system. Surface and subsurface cross-investigation of two meandering traces through soil reflectance spectra and core stratigraphy reveal that these landforms represent the surface expression of buried channels that eroded the underlying lagoonal succession, with lateral transition to intertidal deposits. LiDAR-detected micro-morphologies related to paleomeanders evolution strongly influenced the spatial distribution of mid-late Holocene peat-bearing lithofacies (i.e., salt marsh and swamp), and hence soil moisture distribution, inducing the sharp radiance contrasts (traces) detected by satellite sensors on the surface. On-trace areas invariably lack peat deposits and record the top of 3–4 m-thick channel-fill sands, some 2–4 m below the ground level. In contrast, out-of-trace areas are characterized by organic-rich soils that cap a 2.5–3.5 m-thick succession of intertidal-supratidal peat deposits, accumulated in depressed areas lateral to the channel-levee complex. We conclude that in the early stage of Po Delta construction, between ca. 6000–2500 cal yr BP, two distinct tidal-influenced drainage networks fed the Mezzano Lowland lagoon under a predominantly autogenic control. These findings indicate the suitability of a low-cost RS-stratigraphic approach to improve the reconstruction of past paleogeographic scenarios buried beneath deltaic lowlands, shedding new light on the evolution trends of coastal landforms, environments and sedimentary patterns under highstand conditions.