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Seafloor environments in Cape Cod Bay, a large coastal embayment

December 31, 1996

Cape Cod Bay is a glacial, semi-enclosed embayment that has a patchy distribution of modern seafloor sedimentary environments of erosion or nondeposition, deposition, and sediment reworking. Sidescan-sonar records and supplemental bathymetric, sedimentary, subbottom, and physical-oceanographic data indicate that the characteristics and distribution of these three categories of bottom environments are controlled by a combination of geologic and oceanographic processes that range from episodic to long-term and from regional to local. (1) Environments of erosion or nondeposition comprise exposures of bedrock, glacial drift, and coarse lag deposits that contain sediments (where present) ranging from boulder fields to gravelly coarse-to-medium sands. These environments are dominant on the shallow margins of the bay (water depths < 30 m) where they reflect sediment resuspension, winnowing, and transport during modern northerly storms. (2) Environments of deposition are blanketed by fine-grained sediments ranging from muds to muddy fine sands. These environments are dominant across the floor of the central basin (water depths = 30–60 m) where fine-grained sediments (derived from regional and local sources and emplaced primarily during episodic wind- and density-driven flow) settle through the water column and accumulate under weak bottom currents during nonstorm conditions. (3) Environments of sediment reworking contain patches with diverse textures ranging from gravelly sands to muds. These environments occupy much of the transitional slopes between the margins and the basin floor and reflect a combination of erosion and deposition.

The patchy distribution of sedimentary environments within the bay reflects not only regional changes in processes between the margins and the basin but local changes within each part of the bay as well. Small-scale patchiness is caused by local changes in the strengths of wave- and wind-driven currents and (on the margins) by local variations in the supply of fine-grained sediments.

This study indicates areas within Cape Cod Bay where fine-grained sediments and associated contaminants are likely to be either moved or deposited. It also provides a guide to the locations and variability of benthic habitats.

Publication Year 1996
Title Seafloor environments in Cape Cod Bay, a large coastal embayment
DOI 10.1016/0025-3227(96)00014-X
Authors H. J. Knebel, R. R. Rendigs, J. H. List, Richard P. Signell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Geology
Index ID 70195018
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center