Relict and contemporary influences on the postglacial geomorphology and evolution of a current swept shelf: the Eastern Cape Coast, South Africa

Andrew Green, Andrew Cooper, Nontuthuzo Dlamini, Nonkululeko Dladla, Denham Parker, Sven Kerwath

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Few stratigraphic models of continental shelves incorporate the process of geostrophic current-sweeping, consequently its role in the stratigraphic record is often overlooked. We examine the narrow, current-swept Eastern Cape shelf of South Africa using a combination of geophysical techniques, seafloor sampling and video observations and interpret the role of current action on the transgressive stratigraphy of this steep subtropical shelf. During the Last Glacial Maximum, fluvial valleys incised the acoustic basement rocks. During the subsequent transgression, two distinct shorelines were formed and preserved at −105 m and − 60 m. Their development and preservation is linked to (i) high sediment supply from adjacent fluvial sources, (ii) early diagenesis and (iii) alternating sea-level stillstands and periods of rapid sea-level rise during melt water pulses 1A and 1B, respectively. The deeper shoreline formed in a sandy, wide coastal plain setting with limited bedrock influence, whereas the shallower shoreline comprised alternating rock headlands and embayments like the contemporary coast. Differences in antecedent topography and geology are responsible for the temporal variability in shoreline type; coastal squeeze is exacerbated with increasing bedrock control as the shoreline migrates landward Between the two shoreline complexes, in the mid-shelf, the transgressive stratigraphy records initial valley infill by progradation of coast-parallel sandy spits. These are capped by a stiff lagoonal mud deposited as ongoing sea-level rise overspilled the valley interfluves, onlapping the adjacent aeolianites. The uppermost stratigraphy comprises mounds of rhodoliths which interfinger with a sandy inner to middle shelf highstand wedge. After sea-level reached its present position ca 7.4 ka yr BP, the shelf became subject to reworking by the high-energy geostrophic Agulhas Current. This has had the following major effects on the shelf stratigraphy: 1. The topographic relief of the cemented palaeo-shorelines has been emphasised by removal of the post-transgressive cover; and 2. The shelf no longer acts as a depocenter; instead, the seabed consists of rhodoliths, gravel streamers, bedrock or gravel hash of the wave ravinement surface. Given the necessary antecedent conditions such as accommodation, sediment supply and favourable diagenetic climate, prominent shorelines can form and be preserved on the shelf. Strong current sweeping emphasises these morphological features on subtropical shelves.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106230
JournalMarine Geology
Early online date15 May 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge Eskom and Dr. Peter Ramsay for the donation of multibeam and side scan sonar data sets shown in Figs. 4e and f, and 5c. Ephan Potgieter of Underwater Surveys kindly rented an INS at cost to the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Andrew Matthew of Underwater Surveys slept little, collected and processed the bulk of the data presented here. This project was funded by the National Research Foundation/African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP; Grant Number 97969), through the Imida Project. Funding was also provided through the Bundesministerium f?r Bildung und Forschung (BMBF; projects RAiN2 and MA-RAIN; Grant No. 03G0862A and 03F0731A). The University of KwaZulu-Natal provided additional funding for extra survey costs for which we are grateful. We appreciate the thoughtful inputs to our paper by Scott Nichol, an anonymous reviewer, and the editor, Prof. Edward Anthony.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier B.V.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Agulhas Current
  • Barrier islands
  • Current-dominated shelf
  • Melt water pulse
  • Palaeo-shorelines


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