A New Method for Quantifying Compaction Rates and Their Spatial Variability in the Mississippi Delta

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 2:25 PM
Elizabeth L Chamberlain, Tulane University of Louisiana, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, New Orleans, LA, United States, Zhixiong Shen, Coastal Carolina University, Department of Marine Science, Conway, SC, United States, Torbjorn E Tornqvist, Tulane University of Louisiana, New Orleans, LA, United States and Barbara Mauz, University of Liverpool, School of Environmental Sciences, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Understanding the rates and drivers of subsidence in deltas is essential to manage subaerial land in these naturally ephemeral settings. Subsidence in deltaic settings may be driven by deep crustal processes including isostasy and faulting, compaction of Holocene deposits, and anthropogenic activities such as groundwater management and fluid withdrawal. Here, we offer a new method to measure compaction rates and their spatial variability in the Mississippi Delta (MD) to test the null hypotheses that compaction increases seaward and is a major driver of subsidence.

Late Holocene compaction rates are measured using the mouthbar-overbank stratigraphic boundary. This boundary generally corresponds to mean low tide level; therefore its present-day height relative to coeval mean low tide level is a measure of compaction since the formation of this boundary. The age of this boundary is established through quartz OSL dating, and Holocene relative sea level history in the MD has been well-established. The common occurrence of the mouthbar-overbank boundary in progradational fluviodeltaic successions in the MD makes it possible to study the spatial variability of compaction rates. We also compare displacement rates for this boundary directly north and south of two coast-parallel normal faults.

Results show that late Holocene compaction rates in the Lafourche subdelta of the MD are on the order of a few mm/yr, significantly lower than historical surface subsidence rates for the region. Therefore, the elevated historical surface subsidence rates are likely the result of human alteration of the delta such as fluid withdrawal and groundwater management. Compaction rates do not increase seaward as generally assumed, and instead seem to be driven primarily by the thickness of sediments overlying the mouthbar sands. Thus, the highest rates are documented relatively inland. In addition, we do not find a significant increase in subsidence across normal faults in our study area, suggesting that the contribution of faulting to subsidence has been minimal over the past millennium.