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Refining the link between the Holocene development of the Mississippi River Delta and the geologic evolution of Cat Island, MS: implications for delta-associated barrier islands

August 5, 2014

The geologic evolution of barrier islands is profoundly influenced by the nature of the deposits underlying them. Many researchers have speculated on the origin and evolution of Cat Island in Mississippi, but uncertainty remains about whether or not the island is underlain completely or in part by deposits associated with the past growth of the Mississippi River delta. In part, this is due to a lack of comprehensive geological information offshore of the island that could augment previous stratigraphic interpretations based on terrestrial borings. An extensive survey of Cat Island and its surrounding waters was conducted, including shallow-water geophysics (e.g., high-resolution chirp seismic, side-scan sonar, and swath and single-beam bathymetry) and both terrestrial and marine vibracoring. High-resolution seismic data and vibracores from south and east of the island show two horizontally laminated silt units; marine radiocarbon dates indicate that they are St. Bernard delta complex (SBDC) deposits. Furthermore, seismic data reveal that the SBDC deposits taper off toward the southern shoreline of Cat Island and to the west, morphology consistent with the distal edge of a delta complex. The sedimentology and extent of each unit suggest that the lower unit may have been deposited during an earlier period of continuous river flow while the upper unit may represent reduced or sporadic river flow. OSL dates from the island platform (beneath beach ridge complexes) indicate three stages of terrestrial evolution: island emergence resulting from relative sea-level rise (~ 5400 ybp) island aggradation via littoral transport (~ 2500–4000 ybp) and island degradation due to delta-mediated changes in wave direction (present– ~ 3600 ybp). Finally, the combination of terrestrial and marine data shows that portions of Cat Island that are lower in elevation than the central part of the island are younger and are likely underlain by a thin layer of deltaic sediments. This underscores the potential for increased future vulnerability of barrier islands that develop adjacent to major river delta complexes.