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Lateral trends and vertical sequences in estuarine sediments, Willapa Bay, Washington

December 31, 1980

Willapa Bay is a sizable estuary on the southern coast of Washington- Relatively unmodified in a geologic sense by human activity the bay provides an excellent example of modern depositional facies in an estuarine setting.

Studies of these deposits indicate that consistent lateral trends exist in sediment texture and sedimentary structures. The texture changes from sandy at the mouth of the bay to muddy in its upper parts. In any part of the bay , sediment is coarsest in the channel bottoms, where lag deposits accumulate. The sediment tends to fine in an upslope direction and is finest in supratidal flat deposits of silt and clay.

The nature of sedimentary structures depends on the combination of physical and biological processes and sediment textures. Bedforms exist wherever the bed is sandy. In the main tidal channels sandwaves and dunes up to 4 meters high occur. In tributary channels and at the margins of the main channel, at shallower depths and under less intense currents , the structures are generally less than a meter high. Current ripples occur in t he sandy bed of all of the tidal channels and in runoff channels cross the tidal flat. Symmetric long-crested ripples are produced by wave action over the sandy intertidal flat.

Internal structures in the bay's sediment depend not only on the nature of the bedform but also on the rate of bioturbation relative to physical processes. Under fields of large sandwaves or dunes, medium- to large-scale tabular and trough crossbedding predominates. This crossbedding generally is unidirectional, reflecting the locally dominant current (ebb or flood). Ripple bedding predominates elsewhere in sandy sediment within the channels. Where sand transport is diminished, as on the floor of the upper tributary channels, bioturbation exceeds the rate of production of physical structures and bedding is destroyed. The depositional banks in such areas tend to be sites of rapid sediment accumulation and bedding in the form of interlayered sand (commonly ripple bedded) and mud persists. On intertidal flats the sediment accumulates slowly and bioturbation erases nearly all physical structures. Bedding is preserved only where deposition is locally rapid , as in topographic depressions or on the depositional banks of runoff channels, or where faunal activity is inhibited, as beneath mounds of blue-green algae. The rate of sedimentation is slower still on the supratidal flats, but the general paucity of faunal activity allows the preservation of thin alternations of fine sand , silt or clay.

The lateral migration of the tidal channels produces vertical sequences in which topographically higher facies are superposed on one another. Near the mouth of the estuary the upward sequence: lag deposit — crossbedded sand — ripple or planar-bedded sand is typical. The crossbedding shows a general upward decrease in thickness and a progression from trough to tabular units. In the main tidal channel - in the central estuary and in sandy tributary channels, the typical vertical sequence resembles that near the mouth , with the exception that the sequence is capped by bioturbated sandy or muddy tide flat deposits. In the upper estuary , where muddy sediment predominates, a typical sequence shows the progression-. bioturbated lag deposit — gently dipping interlaminated sand and mud layers of the accretionary bank — bioturbated mud flat deposits — thinly laminated fine supratidal deposits.

Publication Year 1980
Title Lateral trends and vertical sequences in estuarine sediments, Willapa Bay, Washington
Authors H. Edward Clifton, L. Phillips
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70188982
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse