The Lower Murray River’s Mannum Muds: A Holocene Age Lacustrine Deposit In A Bedrock Gorge

Monday, 15 December 2014
Thomas Hubble1, Elyssa De Carli1, Samantha L Clarke1, Dan Penny1, Rebecca Jenner Hamilton1, David N Petley2 and Patricia Gadd3, (1)Geocoastal Research Group, School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, (2)University of Durham, Durham, United Kingdom, (3)Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Sydney, Australia
Middle to Late Holocene age, horizontally laminated clays and muds of lacustrine origin predominate the uppermost layers of the valley-fill sequence deposited in the lower Murray River’s bedrock gorge upstream of the set of lakes which separate Australia's largest river system, The Murray-Darling, from its discharge point to the Southern Ocean. The top surface of the Coonambidgal Formation muds is developed at a constant elevation approximately coincident with the Holocene sea-level maximum and the mud deposit thins progressively in thickness upstream from ~30 m to ~10 m over a distance of 150 km due to a gradual, upstream rise in the elevation of the unit's base. Radiocarbon ages for wood and charcoal fragments recovered from two cores indicates the uppermost four to five metres of these muds were deposited after the mid-Holocene sea-level maximum, at below sea-level elevations indicating that the discharge of the Murray-Darling fluvial system was contained and effectively dammed by an obstruction developed downstream of Lake Alexandrina where the present-day river mouth is located. This feature is suspected to be the precursor of the present-day dune and beach-barrier system which occasionally blocks the river mouth and diverts fresh-water flow into the Coorong Wetlands. Muddy sediment from the entire Murray-Darling catchment was effectively trapped in the lower Murray Gorge palaeolake, herein named Lake Mannum, during the mid to late Holocene. High rates of sedimentation (one to two meters per thousand years) produced exquisitely fine-scaled (1 mm to 1 cm) laminations in the upper Coonambidgal Formation. This material has not been disturbed by bioturbation and presents a sediment record with the potential to yield a high-resolution record of the Murray-Darling catchment’s discharge for much of the Holocene. The present-day lower Murray River channel currently presents a meandering but constant planform geometry upstream of Lake Alexandrina that developed as a thalweg incised and entrenched within the Coonambidgal muds, as a somewhat delayed response to the two metre fall in sea-level after the mid-Holocene maximum. The onset of this incision apparently occurred towards the end of the Holocene.