To understand the temporal and spatial variation of eustatic sea-level fluctuations, glacio–hydro–isostacy, tectonics, subsidence, geologic environments and sedimentation patterns for the Quaternary of a passive continental margin, a nearly complete stratigraphic record that is fully integrated with a three dimensional chronostratigraphic framework, and paleoenvironmental information are necessary. The Albemarle Embayment, a Cenozoic regional depositional basin in eastern North Carolina located on the southeast Atlantic coast of the USA, is an ideal setting to unravel these dynamic, interrelated processes.
Micropaleontological data, coupled with sedimentologic, chronostratigraphic and seismic data provide the bases for detailed interpretations of paleoenvironmental evolution and paleoclimates in the 90 m thick Quaternary record of the Albemarle Embayment. The data presented here come from a transect of cores drilled through a barrier island complex in the central Albemarle Embayment. This area sits in a ramp-like setting between late Pleistocene incised valleys.
The data document the episodic infilling of the Albemarle Embayment throughout the Quaternary as a series of transgressive–regressive (T–R) cycles, characterized by inner shelf, midshelf, and shoreface assemblages, that overlie remnants of fluvial to estuarine valley-fill. Barrier island and marginal marine deposits have a low preservation potential. Inner to mid-shelf deposits of the early Pleistocene are overlain by similar middle Pleistocene shelf sediments in the south of the study area but entirely by inner shelf deposits in the north. Late Pleistocene marine sediments are of inner shelf origin and Holocene deposits are marginal marine in nature. Pleistocene marine sediments are incised, particularly in the northern half of the embayment by lowstand paleovalleys, partly filled by fluvial/floodplain deposits and in some cases, overlain by remnants of transgressive estuarine sediments. The shallowing through time of Quaternary sediments reflects the eastward progradational geometry of the continental shelf.
The preservation potential of marginal marine deposits (barrier island, shoreface, backbarrier deposits) is not high, except in topographic lows associated with late Pleistocene paleovalleys and inlets because the current interglacial highstand has not yet reached its highest level. Given the documented increase in rate of relative sea-level rise in this region, shallow marine conditions are likely to return to the central Albemarle Embayment in the near future.