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Sedimentary environments within a glaciated estuarine-inner shelf system: Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay

January 1, 1993

Three modern sedimentary environments have been identified and mapped across the glaciated Boston Harbor estuary and adjacent inner shelf of Massachusetts Bay by means of an extensive set of sidescan sonar records and supplemental bathymetric, sedimentary, subbottom and bottom-current data. 1. (1) Environments of erosion and nondeposition appear on the sonographs either as patterns with isolated reflections (caused by outcrops of bedrock, glacial drift, and coastal plain rocks) or as patterns of strong backscatter (caused by coarse-grained lag deposits). Sediments in these environments range from boulder fields to gravelly sands with megaripples. Inside the harbor, areas of erosion or nondeposition are found primarily near mainland and insular shores and within constricted tidal channels, whereas, on the shelf, they are present over extensive areas of hummocky topography near the coast and atop local bathymetric highs offshore. 2. (2) Environments of sediment reworking are characterized on the sonographs by patterns with patches of strong to weak backscatter caused by a combination of erosional and depositional processes. These environments have diverse grain sizes that range from sandy gravels to muds. Within the harbor, the locations of reworked sediments are uncorrelated with the bottom topography, but, on the shelf, they are found on the lower flanks of bathymetric highs, within broad lows and in relatively deep water (30-50 m). 3. (3) Environments of deposition are depicted on the sonographs as uniform patterns of weak backscatter. These areas contain relatively fine-grained muddy sands and muds. Inside the harbor, depositional environments are found over extensive subtidal flats and within sheltered depressions, whereas, on the shelf, they are restricted to broad lows mainly in deep water. The extreme patchiness of modern sedimentary environments within the Boston Harbor-Massachusetts Bay system reflects the interaction between the irregular bottom topography and both geologic and oceanographic processes. The estuarine part of the system is an effective trap for fine-grained detritus because of its protected nature, low wave climate, and large supply of sediments. The open shelf, however, is largely mantled by winnowed and sorted sediments as a result of erosion during past sea-level fluctuations, sediment resuspension and transport by modern waves and currents, and a spatially variable supply of fine-grained sediments.

Publication Year 1993
Title Sedimentary environments within a glaciated estuarine-inner shelf system: Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay
DOI 10.1016/0025-3227(93)90102-2
Authors H. J. Knebel
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Geology
Index ID 70018402
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center