Late Holocene evolution of Currituck Sound North Carolina USA : environmental change driven by sea-level rise storms and barrier island morphology

ECU Author/Contributor (non-ECU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Kelli Moran (Creator)
East Carolina University (ECU )
Web Site:
David J. Mallinson

Abstract: Coastal evolution is an increasingly important area of study especially with the projected rise in sea level increase in storm intensity and population increases along the nation's coasts. In order to predict how the coastal environment will respond to these changes in the future we need to first understand the evolution of coastal systems in the past. Here I address the late Holocene evolution of Currituck Sound North Carolina by examining time periods with different barrier island and inlet configurations interpreted from core data. Chirp seismic data and 13 vibracores have been used to interpret the Holocene development of this region. Four depositional units have been defined based on lithofacies biofacies geophysical and geochronologic data. The lowermost depositional unit (Unit I) is represented by quartz sand barren of foraminifera and is Pleistocene in age based on an OSL age estimate of 33.7 ka. Unit II consists of slightly muddy sand that fines upward to slightly sandy mud; it is barren of foraminifera contains rooted horizons in several cores and is interpreted as a fresh water swamp forest deposit (radiocarbon dating provide age estimates of ca. 4000 to 2800 cal y BP). Unit III is characterized by slightly sandy mud to mud containing a calcareous foraminiferal assemblage and oyster bioherms; these characteristics indicate a back-barrier estuarine environment with high salinity (ca. 25 to 35) due to open inlets in the barrier islands to the east. Radiocarbon age estimates for Unit IV range from ca. 1700 to 500 cal y BP.  The topmost unit (Unit IV) is composed of sediment with variable composition ranging from clean quartz sand to mud and contains foraminiferal assemblages that are generally mixed calcareous/agglutinated at the base overlain by entirely agglutinated assemblages. This unit represents the modern (post- ca. 1827) mid- to low salinity (less than 10) back-barrier lagoon with no inlets open in the barrier island. Sediment and microfossil-based paleoenvironmental and geomorphic reconstructions including variable numbers of inlets have been used as input into the Delft3D hydrodynamic model to understand inlet related changes to tides and currents within the Sound. This modeling indicates that impacts of inlets are very localized and only inlets in the direct vicinity of Currituck Sound (i.e. between historic Caffey's Inlet and Kill Devil Hills) have a significant impact on the water levels and currents in the study area. 

Additional Information

Date: 2013
Geology, barrier island morphology, Holocene, Sea level rise
Sedimentation and deposition--North Carolina--Currituck Sound
Paleogeography--North Carolina--Currituck Sound
Sounds (Geomorphology)--North Carolina
Currituck Sound (N.C.)

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