Micropaleontological data provide a strong actualistic basis for detailed interpretations of Quaternary paleoenvironmental change. The 90 m-thick Quaternary record of the Albemarle Embayment in the mid-Atlantic coastal plain of the USA provides an excellent opportunity to use such an approach in a region where the details of Quaternary environmental change are poorly known. The foraminiferal record in nine cores from the northern Outer Banks, east of Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, indicates the deposition of subhorizontal, mostly open-marine early to late Pleistocene units unconformably upon a basement of late Pliocene reduced-oxygen, fine-grained, shelf-basin deposits. Pollen data record several warm-cool fluctuations within the early to mid-Pleistocene deposits. Diatom data indicate that some fresh and brackish-water units occur within the generally open-marine Pleistocene succession. A channel cut by the paleo-Roanoke River during the last glacial sea-level lowstand occurs in the northern part of the study area. Pollen indicates that the basal fluvial valley fill accumulated in cooler than modern climate conditions in the latest Pleistocene. Overlying silts and muds accumulated under cool climatic, estuarine conditions according to diatom and pollen data. Radiocarbon ages from the estuarine deposits indicate that the bulk of these sediments accumulated during the latest Pleistocene. The estuarine channel-fill deposits are overlain by Holocene open-marine sands deposited as the rising sea transgressed into the estuary approximately 8.5 to 9.0 kyr BP. Within the barrier island drill cores of this study, fully marine sedimentation occurred throughout the Holocene. However, immediately west of the present barrier island, mid- to late Holocene estuarine deposits underlie the modern Albemarle Sound. The islands that currently form a continuous barrier across the mouth of Albemarle Sound have a complex history of Holocene construction and destruction and large portions of them may be less than 3 kyr old. The barrier island sands overlie open-marine sands of Colington Shoal in the north and to the south overlie fluvial and marine sand filling paleo-Roanoke tributary valleys. The Pleistocene sediments underlying the northern Outer Banks study area are mainly of open inner to mid-shelf origin. If, as is likely, sea level continues to rise, a return to such environmental conditions is likely in the near future.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Earth-Surface Processes