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Decadal-scale sediment dynamics and environmental change in the Albemarle Estuarine System, North Carolina

Decadal-scale sediment dynamics and environmental change in the Albemarle Estuarine System, North Carolina

Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science 71(3-4): 717-729

During the summer of 2001, several short cores (< 50 cm) were collected in the Albemarle Estuarine System (AES). Down-core measurements for radiochemical tracers (Pb-210, Cs-137) and organic matter signatures (delta C-13, delta N-15, C:N ratio, and LOI) have been used to elucidate potential temporal changes in fluxes and cycles of organic matter in the AES. Pb-210 geochronology indicates temporal and spatial variations in sediment deposition rates (0.08-0.57 cm y(-1)) with highest rates near the AES western limit relative to the rest of the estuary. Low accumulation rates, deficient excess Pb-210 inventories, and near linear (CS)-C-137 profiles throughout the AES suggest that sediments are resuspended by wind-generated waves and currents and flushed from the system by river discharge and wind-tides, probably to Pamlico Sound to the south. Sediments in the AES are accumulating at rates less than the current rate of relative sea-level rise for this region except in protected portions of the estuary. Thus sediment accumulation in the AES is controlled in the short term by storm wave-base and in the long term by the creation of accommodation space by basin subsidence and sea-level rise. The geochemical and sedimento logical data characterize the evolution of the Albemarle Sound and associated tributaries over the past 200-300 years. The majority of cores collected throughout the system show a significant decrease in C-13 and increase in N-15 isotopic signatures up-core. Thus, the estuarine system of eastern North Carolina has changed from a marine influenced,high brackish environment to the modern-day system, which is a highly variable, terrestrially influenced, low brackish environment.

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Accession: 012959028

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DOI: 10.1016/j.ecss.2006.09.024

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