Origin and Geomorphology
Origin and Geomorphology
Geologically speaking, estuaries are ephemeral features of the coasts. Upon formation, most begin to fill in with sediments and, in the absence of sea level changes, would have life spans of only a few thousand to tens of thousands of years (Emery and Uchupi, 1972; Schubel, 1972; Schubel and Hirschberg, 1978). Estuaries have been part of the geologic record for at least the past 200 million years (My) BP (before present; Williams, 1960; Clauzon, 1973). However, modern estuaries are recent features that only formed over the past 5000 to 6000 years during the stable interglacial period of the middle to late Holocene epoch (0–10,000 y BP), which followed an extensive rise in sea level at the end of the Pleistocene epoch (1.8 My to 10,000 y BP; Nichols and Biggs, 1985). There is general agreement that four major glaciation to interglacial periods occurred during the Pleistocene. It has been suggested that sea level was reduced from a maximum of about 80 m above sea level during the Aftoninan interglacial to 100 m below sea level during the Wisconsin, some 15,000 to 18,000 y BP (figure 2.1; Fairbridge, 1961). This lowest sea level phase is referred to as low stand and is usually determined by uncovering the oldest drowned shorelines along continental margins (Davis, 1985, 1996); conversely, the highest sea level phase is referred to as high stand. It is generally accepted that low-stand depth is between 130 and 150 m below present sea level and that sea level rose at a fairly constant rate until about 6000 to 7000 y BP (Belknap and Kraft, 1977). A sea level rise of approximately 10 mm y−1 during this period resulted in many coastal plains being inundated with water and a displacement of the shoreline. The phenomenon of rising (transgression) and falling (regression) sea level over time is referred to as eustacy (Suess, 1906). When examining a simplified sea level curve, we find that the rate of change during the Holocene is fairly representative of the Gulf of Mexico and much of the U.S. Atlantic coastline (Curray, 1965).
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