Micropaleontologic record of Pliocene and Quaternary paleoenvironments in the southern Albemarle Embayment, North Carolina, U.S.A.

TitleMicropaleontologic record of Pliocene and Quaternary paleoenvironments in the southern Albemarle Embayment, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsCulver SJ, Farrell KM, Mallinson DJ, Willard DA, Horton BP, Riggs SR, Thieler E R, Wehmiller JF, Parham PR
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Date Published09/2016
KeywordsDiatoms, Foraminifera, Holocene, Paleoenvironments, Pleistocene, Pollen

The Albemarle Embayment, a Cenozoic depositional basin on the Atlantic coast of the USA, is an ideal setting to understand the temporal and spatial variation of eustatic sea-level fluctuations, glacio-hydro-isostasy, tectonics, subsidence, environments and sedimentation patterns of a passive margin Quaternary section. A NE–SW transect of cores and seismic data in the southern Albemarle Embayment were analyzed using micropaleontologic (foraminifera, diatoms, pollen), sedimentologic, stratigraphic, and geochronologic data to reconstruct the paleoenvironmental evolution and paleoclimates in the nearly 90 m thick Quaternary section. The study area is a very low gradient Quaternary landscape that is cross-cut by several Pleistocene incised valleys; a Holocene barrier island complex forms its eastern margin. In the subsurface, the Albemarle Embayment is bordered to the north by the Norfolk Arch and to the south by the depositionally-constructed Cape Lookout High, which is positioned on the northern flank of the structural Carolina Platform.

The Quaternary section overlies mid-Pliocene carbonates in three cores; the contact rises in elevation towards the Cape Lookout High. Fossils and sediment characteristics suggest a subtropical, shallow, high energy marine environment during the Pliocene. Overlying units include incomplete Pleistocene, clastic, transgressive-regressive (T-R) deposits. These have similar ages and stratigraphic signatures as the T-R cycles in the central and north-central Albemarle Embayment, although mid-Pleistocene deposits may be older in the southern region. The bulk of the early and mid-Pleistocene record consists of inner to mid-shelf sand and muddy sand. In contrast, late Pleistocene sands are of inner shelf origin, reflecting the infilling of the basin. Lowstand paleovalleys, with fluvial, wetland and estuarine fill, dissect the early, mid- and late Pleistocene marine units; their locations reflect antecedent topography. Holocene sediments were deposited in shoreface and barrier island environments. Quaternary foraminiferal assemblages in the southern Albemarle Embayment exhibit greater species richness than those in the central and north-central embayment reflecting the presence of a major biogeographic boundary at the same location as the modern biogeographic boundary at Cape Hatteras.