Publication Type:Journal Article
Source:Geomorphology, Volume 208, p.160-172 (2014)
Keywords:Delaware Estuary, Holocene, Paleotempestology, Salt-marsh, Tropical cyclone
The recent impacts of tropical cyclones and severe storms on the U.S. Atlantic coast brought into focus the need for extended records of storm activity from different geomorphologic settings. Such reconstructions are typically developed from sites that experienced repeated overwash of sand into low-energy, depositional environments. However, salt-marsh sediment may also preserve a record of repeated erosion from tropical cyclones and storms. We describe late Holocene sediments beneath the Sea Breeze salt marsh (Delaware Bay, New Jersey) from more than 200 gouge cores positioned along seven transects. The stratigraphic record documents at least seven depositional sequences consisting of salt-marsh peat and mud couplets that represent dramatic changes in sedimentation regime. There are a number of processes that could produce these stratigraphic sequences against a background of rising relative sea level including: lateral migration of tidal creeks; tidal channel network and/or drainage ditch expansion; changes in sediment delivery rates; rapid relative sea-level change; tsunami; and formation of salt pans. The abrupt contacts between the salt-marsh peat and overlying intertidal mud suggest that erosion of the peat was followed by rapid infilling of accommodation space. Correlation of erosional surfaces across 2.5 km suggests a common mechanism and we propose that the erosion was caused by tropical cyclones and/or storms. We developed a chronology of repeated salt-marsh erosion and recovery using 137Cs, metal pollution (Pb concentration and stable isotopes), and radiocarbon data. Two recent episodes of salt-marsh erosion may correlate with historic tropical cyclones in AD 1903, and AD 1821/1788 that impacted the Atlantic coast of New Jersey, but the erosive nature of the Sea Breeze site hinders definitive correlation. Prehistoric erosional sequences correlate with overwash fans preserved in the regional sedimentary record. We estimated that it takes from several decades to almost 200 years for salt-marshes to recover from storm erosion.