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Stratigraphy of the Mississippi-Alabama shelf and the Mobile River incised-valley system

January 1, 1994

The Mobile River incised-valley system located in the northern Gulf of Mexico occupies an area from southern Alabama through Mobile Bay to the outer Mississippi-Alabama continental shelf. During the Wisconsinan regression, this incised-valley system was fluvially eroded and extended across the exposed shelf to a shelf-margin delta complex. The last postglacial transgression drowned the entrenched alluvial valleys and reworked the alluvial fill and estuarine deposits to form shoals on the middle shelf. As the postglacial transgression slowed. Mobile Bay was formed. Mobile Bay is a large estuarine system protected by barrier islands. This paper documents the late Quaternary history of the Mobile River incised valley and fill.

Mobile Bay is a large (> 1000 km2) microtidal estuary in southern Alabama that receives drainage through the Mobile River system. The Mobile River catchment is the fourth largest in the United States and terminates at the bayhead delta of Mobile Bay. The bay is a classic example of a wave-dominated, drowned, fluvial incised valley. During the middle-late Wisconsinan, glacial maximum, relative sea level was approximately 120 m lower than present. The Mobile River incised valley was a conduit for drainage from the catchment to the shelf margin. The sediment carried by the fluvial system during this lowstand passed through the Mobile River incised valley, across the exposed shelf and was deposited on the shelf margin as deltaic lobes.

Rapid sea-level rise forced coastal-plain shorelines landward across the present mid-continental shelf. Transgression of the estuary mouth left a series of estuary-mouth-bar deposits that were reworked and overlie alluvial fill. These sand-rich deposits were submerged by the continuing transgression and reworked to form shoals As the Holocene sea-level rise slowed, the Mobile River incised valley became an estuarine depocenter. In the present alluvial valley, lowstand deposits are overlain by estuarine sediments deposited during the initial flooding of the valley and subsequent formation of Mobile Bay.

During the present highstand, longshore sediment transport formed a spit across much of the bay mouth, creating a restricted estuary into which a bayhead delta has prograded. Late Holocene deposits in Mobile Bay consists predominantly or lagoonal sediments with bayhead-delta deposits encroaching into the northern end of the bay.

The Holocene incised-valley fill (estuarine facies) underlying Mobile Buy fit well into the conceptual facies model of a microtidal wave-dominated estuary. The model does not fit as well, however, with the rapidly transgressed shelf portion of the incised valley. The down dip section does not contain a clearly identifiable (from seismic profiles) estuarine facies; the valley fill is primarily fluvial and is overlain by marine shoals. In the Mobile River incised valley, the distal portion of the valley was rapidly drowned, allowing the thin estuarine facies to be reworked. The proximal portion was drowned more slowly, leaving the estuarine facies intact. Thus, the single incised valley contains two very different types of fill.

Publication Year 1994
Title Stratigraphy of the Mississippi-Alabama shelf and the Mobile River incised-valley system
DOI 10.2110/pec.94.12.0083
Authors Jack L. Kindinger, Peter S. Balson, James G. Flocks
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title SEPM Special Publication
Index ID 70135342
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coastal and Marine Geology Program