Antecedent geological control on transgressive delta and shoreline preservation: Examples from the SE African shelf

Luke Engelbrecht, Andrew N. Green, Andrew Cooper, Fiona Mackay

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Using a suite of ultra-high resolution geophysical tools, remote operated vehicle dives, legacy cores, and isolated grab samples, we demonstrate at a regional shelf scale, the influence of antecedent geology (basement topography, shelf gradient and submerged shoreline features) on the evolving transgressive shelf stratigraphy of a subaqueous delta. The unconsolidated uppermost delta occurs as isolated remnants scattered across the low-gradient shelf. Seismic data reveal across-shelf heterogeneity in bedrock elevation, with prominent bedrock highs and depressions and several well-preserved aeolianite palaeo-shoreline complexes at water depths of −100, −60 and − 40 m. Analysis of bathymetric and seismic data demonstrates that these pre-existing shoreline complexes exert an overarching control on the distribution patterns of i) deltaic sediments, where they abut the landward flank of the shoreline form, acting as a barrier to seaward dispersal, and ii) shoreface sediments which remain sequestered on the mid-shelf on the seaward flank of the shoreline complex, hampering the landward translation of the shoreface in step with rising sea levels. Moreover, sediment distribution/accumulation is further constrained where elevated portions of the basement topography provide little to no accommodation, and act as zones of sediment bypass, and adjacent basement depressions accommodate sediment to seaward. The gentle antecedent slope, coupled with the gentle shoreline trajectory mediated transgressive erosion directly to landward. This is reinforced where local inflections in the wave ravinement profile form due to the presence of palaeo-shoreline complexes, aiding in the ultimate preservation of these submerged delta facets in the palaeo-shoreline lee. This study shows that low antecedent gradients, and palaeo-shoreline features, lead to development of transgressive coastal profiles that are predisposed to delta overstepping. The pre-existing basement topography and palaeo-shorelines constrain the positioning and morphology of the delta. We suggest that antecedent conditioning has partitioned accommodation for delta accumulation and moderated wave ravinement associated with transgression since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). The geological framework has acted as a recurring primary control on the geomorphic evolution of the submarine delta and shelf.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106934
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalMarine Geology
Early online date3 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Dec 2022


  • Submerged deltas
  • antecedent geology
  • palaeo-shorelines
  • Thukela shelf


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