Late Neogene and Quaternary evolution of the northern Albemarle Embayment (mid-Atlantic continental margin, USA)

David Mallinson, Stan Riggs, E. Robert Thieler, Stephen Culver, Kathleen Farrell, David S. Foster, D. Reide Corbett, Benjamin Horton, John F. Wehmiller

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Seismic surveys in the eastern Albemarle Sound, adjacent tributaries and the inner continental shelf define the regional geologic framework and provide insight into the sedimentary evolution of the northern North Carolina coastal system. Litho- and chronostratigraphic data are derived from eight drill sites on the Outer Banks barrier islands, and the Mobil #1 well in eastern Albemarle Sound. Within the study area, parallel-bedded, gently dipping Miocene beds occur at 95 to > 160 m below sea level (m bsl), and are overlain by a southward-thickening Pliocene unit characterized by steeply inclined, southward-prograding beds. The lower Pliocene unit consists of three seismic sequences. The 55-60 m thick Quaternary section unconformably overlies the Pliocene unit, and consists of 18 seismic sequences exhibiting numerous incised channel-fill facies. Shallow stratigraphy (< 40 m bsl) is dominated by complex fill patterns within the incised paleo-Roanoke River valley. Radiocarbon and amino-acid racemization (AAR) ages indicate that the valley-fill is latest Pleistocene to Holocene in age. At least six distinct valley-fill units are identified in the seismic data. Cores in the valley-fill contain a 3-6 m thick basal fluvial channel deposit that is overlain by a 15 m thick unit of interlaminated muds and sands of brackish water origin that exhibit increasing marine influence upwards. Organic materials within the interlaminated deposits have ages of 13-11 cal. ka. The interlaminated deposits within the valley are overlain by several units that comprise shallow marine sediments (bay-mouth and shoreface environments) that consist of silty, fine- to medium-grained sands containing open neritic foraminifera, suggesting that this area lacked a fronting barrier island system and was an open embayment from ∼10 ka to ∼4.5 ka. Seismic data show that initial infilling of the paleo-Roanoke River valley occurred from the north and west during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene. Later infilling occurred from the south and east and is characterized by a large shoal body (Colington Island and Shoals) and adjacent inlet fill. Establishment of a continuous barrier island system across the bay-mouth resulted in deposition of the latest phase of valley-fill, characterized by estuarine organic-rich muds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-117
Number of pages21
JournalMarine Geology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 30 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


  • Albemarle embayment
  • Coastal evolution
  • Estuary
  • Incised valley-fill
  • Seismic stratigraphy


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