Response of a wave-dominated coastline and delta to antecedent conditioning and fluctuating rates of postglacial sea-level rise

Sascha Dyer, Andrew Green, Andrew Cooper, Annette Hahn, Matthias Zabel

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In the context of rising sea levels, wave-dominated coasts and deltas are among the most threatened of coastal landforms. The study of submerged deltas, in tandem with other drowned wave-dominated shoreline sequences, can shed light on the long-term coastal behaviour of these threatened shorelines when subject to high-end scenarios of relative sea-level rise. Using ultra high-resolution seismic reflection data and gravity core samples, this paper investigates the post-glacial stratigraphic development and architecture of the shelf off southern Mozambique. We document several well-preserved beachrock/aeolianite palaeo-shoreline complexes from water depths of −100, −75 and −60 m, interpreted as representing the positions of former sea-level slowstands or stillstands. These overlie the regional subaerial unconformity associated with the last glacial maximum and are linked to two phases of deltaic deposition. Pro-deltaic deposits on the outer shelf were linked with the period of sea-level stability attributed to the −100 m shoreline, while proximal delta front deposits on the inner- to mid-shelf are linked to a slowstand evident in the local sea level record at −40 m. Well-developed lower delta plain facies overlie both shoreline and delta front facies and show evidence of strong channelisation during normal regression of the delta. These are overlain across the shelf by isolated and stranded pieces of the now relict shoreface, trapped to seaward by the shoreline complexes. The more proximal parts of the shelf are in turn overlain by fluvial-derived muddy facies of the current prodeltas of the area. The preservation of shoreline and delta deposits was enhanced by intervening rapid increments in sea-level rise associated with meltwater pulses 1A (−100 m) and 1B,(−60 m) though the preservation of the −75 shoreline feature, in spite of modest rates of Older Dryas base-level change, points toward other factors such as rapid cementation as dominant in this instance. The region's high sediment supply exerted a primary control on shelf preservation by dampening the erosive extent of wave-ravinement. Variations in antecedent gradient are responsible for much of the documented along-shelf and down-dip depositional variability: low-gradient settings promoted the development of broad coastal plains and strongly wave-dominated deltaic facies, while steeper areas of the shelf favoured the development of coastal landforms in relatively narrow complexes fronted by deep-water deltaic deposits. Steeper areas of the shelf also tend be characterised by an embayed along-coast profile that locally mitigates wave-energy, reinforcing the influence of inherited gradient. Once preserved, drowned coastal barriers introduced an additional geological control as post-glacial sediment became trapped between these features on the outer shelf. The dispersal of modern sediments is strongly influenced by the hydrodynamic regime Delagoa Bight, under which fluvial muds are transported northeastward along the shelf by a persistent inner-mid shelf counter-current. A considerable proportion of the modern sediment budget is lost off-shelf where the shelf narrows. This study shows that low antecedent gradients foster gentle coastal profiles predisposed to delta overstepping. Though local topographic knickpoints can aid in preserving the delta during submergence, they do not buffer the delta from the general effects of inundation which include drowning of the delta top. Once overstepped, the former delta can be overlain by distal deltaic sediments associated with the higher sea level and associated fluvial and oceanographic forcing quite different from earlier phases of delta construction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106435
JournalMarine Geology
Early online date29 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the captain and crew of the RV Meteor, cruise M123. This project has been supported by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF; projects RAiN2 and MA-RAIN; Grant No. 03G0862A and 03F0731A ). SED acknowledges a scholarship from the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) and the National Research Foundation . This paper formed part of SED's MSc thesis at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The thoughtful and critical reviews of Dr. Walther Barnhardt, two anonymous reviewers, and the editor in chief, Prof. Edward Anthony are gratefully acknowledged.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Meltwater pulse
  • Mozambique
  • Palaeo-shorelines
  • Submerged delta
  • Wave dominated coastline


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