Abandoned Channel Fill Sequences in Tidal Estuaries

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Andrew B Gray1, Gregory B Pasternack1, Miguel A Goni2 and Elizabeth Burke Watson3, (1)University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States, (2)Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, United States, (3)U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Atlantic Ecology Division, Narragansett, RI, United States
This study proposes a modification of the current model for abandoned channel fill stratigraphy produced in unidirectional flow river reaches to incorporate seasonal tidal deposition. Evidence supporting this concept came from a study of two consecutive channel abandonment sequences in Ropers Slough of the lower Eel River Estuary in northern California. Aerial photographs showed that Ropers Slough was abandoned around 1943, reoccupied after the 1964 flood, and abandoned again in 1974 with fill continuing to the present. Planform geomorphic characteristics derived from these images were used in conjunction with sub-cm resolution stratigraphic analyses to describe the depositional environment processes and their resultant sedimentary deposits. Results showed that both abandonment sequences recorded quasi-annual scale fluvial/tidal deposition couplets. In both cases tidal deposits contained very little sand, and were higher in organic and inorganic carbon content than the sandier fluvial through-flow deposits. However, the two abandonment fills differed significantly in terms of the temporal progression of channel narrowing and fluvial sediment deposition characteristics. The first abandonment sequence led to a more rapid narrowing of Ropers Slough and produced deposits with a positive relationship between grain size/deposit thickness and discharge. The second abandonment resulted in a much slower narrowing of Ropers Slough and generally thinner fluvial deposits with no clear relationship between grain size/deposit thickness and discharge. The δ13C values and organic nitrogen to organic carbon ratios of deposits from the first phase overlapped with Eel River suspended sediment characteristics found for low flows (1-5 times mean discharge), while those of the second phase were consistent suspended sediment from higher flows (7-10 times mean discharge). The abandoned channel fill sequences appeared to differ due to the topographic steering of bed sediment transport and deposition previously identified in rivers experiencing only unidirectional flow, while also expressing the seasonal dichotomy of fluvial and tidal deposits.