Assessing Subaqueous Mudflow Hazard on the Mississippi River Delta Front, Part 1: A Historical Perspective on Mississippi River Delta Front Sedimentation

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Jillian M Maloney1,2, Samuel J Bentley1,2, Jeffrey Obelcz2,3, Kehui Xu2,3, Michael D Miner4, Ioannis Y Georgiou5, Kevin Hanegan5 and Gregory Keller1,2, (1)Louisiana State University, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Baton Rouge, LA, United States, (2)Coastal Studies Institute, Baton Rouge, LA, United States, (3)Louisiana State University, Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Baton Rouge, LA, United States, (4)U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, New Orleans, LA, United States, (5)University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA, United States
Subaqueous mudflows are known to be ubiquitous across the Mississippi River delta front (MRDF) and have been identified as a hazard to offshore infrastructure. Among other factors, sediment accumulation rates and patterns play an important role in governing the stability of delta front sediment. High sedimentation rates result in underconsolidation, slope steepening, and increased biogenic gas production, which are all known to decrease stability. Sedimentation rates are highly variable across the MRDF, but are highest near the mouth of Southwest Pass, which carries the largest percentage of Mississippi River sediment into the Gulf of Mexico. Since the 1950s, the sediment load of the Mississippi River has decreased by ~50% due to dam construction upstream. The impact of this decreased sediment load on MRDF mudflow dynamics has yet to be examined. We compiled MRDF bathymetric datasets, including historical charts, industry and academic surveys, and NOAA data, collected between 1764 and 2009, in order to identify historic trends in sedimentation patterns.

The progradation of Southwest Pass (measured at 10 m depth contour) has slowed from ~66 m/yr between 1764 and 1940 to ~25 m/yr between 1940 and 1979, with evidence of further deceleration from 1979-2009. Decreased rates of progradation are also observed at South Pass and Pass A Loutre. Advancement of the delta also decelerated in deeper water (15-90 m) offshore from Southwest Pass. In this area, from 1940-1979, depth contours advanced seaward ~25 m/yr, but did not advance from 1979-2005. Furthermore, over the same area and time ranges, the sediment accumulation rate decreased by ~82%. We expect these sedimentation trends are occurring across the delta front, with potential impacts on spatial and temporal patterns of subaqueous mudflows. The MRDF appears to be entering a phase of decline, which will likely be accelerated by future upstream sediment diversion projects. New geophysical data will be required to assess potential mudflow hazards associated with new MRDF sedimentation rates and patterns (See Part 2, Obelcz et al.).