Coastal Barriers, Northern Gulf-Last Eustatic Cycle; Genetic Categories and Devleopmental Contrasts. A Review

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Geography and Geology


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


A large body of chronologically well-constrained and detailed Quaternary data accumulated in the last decades from the coastal-shelf region of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Consequently, a preliminary synthesis of major aspects of the late Quaternary barrier and mainland coastal development on the northern Gulf of Mexico is timely. Several major factors account for the striking differences between barrier size and development styles in the three northern Gulf coast regions. Barriers are nearly continuous in the NW where they dominate by the greatest dimensions and continuity. Sand supply from shelf and mainland sources, continued at variable rates throughout six stages of the Last Eustatic Cycle (LEC). Differences in antecedent topography, in fluvial runoff volumes and relative sea level rise, including rapid overstepping-flooding events were critical in the regional distinctions. Leaving fewer and smaller relict fluvial delta behind, drowned shore and nearshore landforms on the shelf, only two large fluvial systems impacted the NE. The NW shelf and nearshore received abundant sediment supply from the Mississippi and lesser streams; indirectly by ravinement erosion of relict landforms and landward-directed cross-shelf sediment transfer. Sands originated mainly in relict deltas, fluvial, tidal channel, and inlet fill, as well as from submerged shore ridge remnants on the continental shelf. Shelf-margin deltas represented major secondary sources. Barrier formation categories and their respective importance in specific areas represent critical aspects of coastal development. The authorship of various formation concepts (e.g., Penck, Gilbert, McGee, Haage, Ganong, and Keilhack) often is still miscredited or remains unrecognized in the literature. Recognition of the stratigraphic and sedimentological diagnostic characteristics of the basic genetic barrier categories plays a key role in testing the validity of barrier evolution models.

Closely-knit process-form relationships prevail between hydrodynamic (sea level change, storm, tidal current, overwash), sedimentary (shoal and island aggradation, rollover, and eolian accumulation) processes, and the resulting landform morphology. The most detailed accounts that deal with the development of the Alabama-Louisiana and Apalachicola barrier chains are particularly instructive. Almost all modern Gulf barriers with identifiable genetic background formed by shoal aggradation between 5.5 and 2.0 ka, during a marked deceleration in sea level rise. Concurrently, a sizable mainland strand plain complex extended the NE coastal plain. Tide- and storm-driven sediment transport to the large Mobile Bay ebb-delta, the focal role of composite east Dauphin Island in establishing the MS-LA island chain and the island-blocking role of Mississippi Delta advance were prime factors in a complex barrier history. Migration, paradoxically, may also occur by transgressive rollover concurrently with regressive landward progradation of island strand plains. Stream discharge and sand reworked from relict lithosomes on the shelf were insufficient in compensating for wave- and tide-related sediment loss. Gulf levels stayed below the present throughout the mid- and late Holocene.

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Quaternary Science Reviews



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