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Jawad Bashir(Thunder)

Bahria university

Presents

DELTA AND ESTUARIES


DELTA AND ESTUARY

DELTA
The term "delta," the Greek character ▲, was used to describe the mouth of the Nile by
Herodotus nearly 2500 years ago. This term is still used by geographers and geologists
alike. A modern definition cites a delta as "the subaerial and submerged contiguous
sediment mass deposited in a body of water (ocean or lake) primarily by the action of
a river"
OR

A delta can be defined as a ‘discrete shoreline protuberance formed at


a point where a river enters the ocean or other body of water’ and as
such it is formed where
sediment brought down by the river builds out as a body into the lake
or sea.
HOW DELTAS FORMED
A delta forms where a jet of sediment-laden water intrudes a body of standing water.
Current velocity diminishes radially from the jet mouth, depositing sediment whose
settling velocities allow grain size to diminish radially from the jet mouth. Sedimentation
around the jet mouth builds up to the air/water interface, but the force of the jet maintains
a scoured channel out through the sediment. Ridges on either side of the distributary
channel are termed as “Levees” termed

As sedimentation continues, the delta progrades out into the standing body of water.
Three main morphological units appear. The delta platform is the subhorizontal surface
nearest the jet mouth. It is basically composed of sand and is traversed by the distributary
channel and its flanking leevs.

The delta platform grades away from the source into the delta slope on which finer sands
and silts come to rest. This in turn passes down into the prodelta area on which clay
settles out of suspension. A vertical section through the apex of a delta thus reveals a
gradual vertical increase in grain size. At the base the prodelta clays grade up through
delta slope silts into sands of the delta platform. Classically, these three elements have
been termed the bottomset, foreset, and topset, respectively.

Eventually a distributary channel extends so far that its mouth becomes choked with
sediment. At a point of weakness the lev6e bursts and a new distributary system is
established. The abandoned distributary is choked by suspended sediment, and the whole
abandoned lobe sinks beneath the water as it compacts. This ideal delta model consists of
a series of interdigitating lobes, each one showing a gradual upward increase in grain
size, and a decrease in grain size from its point of origin.

Controls On Delta (Environments and Facies).

The supply of the sediment is determined by the nature of the


hinterland, with the climate influencing the weathering and erosion
processes and the discharge, the amount of water in the rivers, while
there are tectonic controls on the topography, especially the gradient
of the river and the effect this has on the grain size of the material
carried. The relative importance of processes that rework the sediment
in the basin is controlled by climatic and geomorphologic factors: tidal
range is determined by the local shape of the basin, while the wave
activity is influenced by climate and the size of the water body. The
depth of the water in the basin is also importantbecause it influences
the effects of wave and tide processes and also controls the overall
geometry of the delta body: if the delta is building out into shallow
water it will spread further out into the basin than if the water is
deeper

Classification Of Deltas
1. Grain Size and Sediment Supply
2. On bases of Geomorphology(Shape and size)
3. Modern Delta systems(Process controlled)

GRAIN SIZE AND SEDIMENT SUPPLY

Deltas are now commonly classified in terms of the dominant grain size
of the deposits and the relative importance of fluvial, wave and tide
processes This scheme can be applied to modern deltas and is useful
because the characteristics of the deposits formed by different deltas
within it can be used as a basis for classifying strata that are
interpreted as delta facies.

MORPHOLOGY(SHAPE AND SIZE)

There are four main types of deltas classified on the bases of shape and size.

1. Bird’s Foot Delta


2. Cuspate Delta
3. Arcuate Deta
4. Estuarine Delta

1. BIRD’S FOOT DELTA


A delta with long, projecting distributary channels that branch outward like the toes or
claws of a bird. A bird's foot delta forms where sediment is deposited in relatively calm
offshore waters. An example of a bird's foot delta is the Mississippi river delta.

2. Arcuate Delta

An arcuate delta forms when a river meets the sea in a place where the waves, currents,
and tides are strong. It is often bow shaped and has a number of distributaries flowing
across it. An example is the Nile delta of Egypt. Found in areas where longshore drift
keeps the seaward edge of the delta trimmed and relatively smooth, is only one form of
delta

3. Estaurine Delta

When the mouth of a river enters the sea and is inundated by the sea in a mix with
freshwater and very little delta, it is called an estuary. An example of a estuarine delta is
the Seine river delta in France or the Mackenzie river delta in Canada
4. Cuspate Delta

Tooth-shaped delta in which a single dominant river builds the delta forward into a lake
or sea. A cuspate delta is formed when a river drops sediment onto a straight shoreline
with strong waves. Waves force the sediment to spread outwards in both directions from
the river's mouth making a pointed tooth shape with curved sides. An example is the
Tiber delta in Italy.
MODERN DELTA TYPES (PROCESS CONTROLED)

1. River Dominated Deltas


2. Nile (Original Type) Deltas
3. Wave Dominated Deltas
4. Tide Dominated Deltas

1. NILE DELTA

2. RIVER DOMINATED DELTA

River-dominant deltas are found where rivers carry so much sediment to the coast that the
deposition rate overwhelms the rate of reworking and removal due to local marine forces. In
regions where wave energy is very low, even low-sediment-load rivers can form substantial
deltas
3. WAVE DOMINATED
At wave-dominant deltas, waves sort and redistribute sediments delivered to the coast by
rivers and remold them into shoreline features such as beaches, barriers, and spits. The
morphology of the resulting delta reflects the balance between sediment supply and the rate
of wave reworking and redistribution.

4. TIDE DOMINATED

At the river mouths, mixing obliterates vertical density stratification, eliminating the
effects of buoyancy. For part of the year, tidal currents may be responsible for a greater
fraction of the sediment transporting energy than the river. As a result, sediment transport
in and near the river mouth is bidirectional over a tidal cycle
DELTA ENVIRONMENTS AND SUCCESSIONS
Marine deltas form at the interface of continental and marine
environments. The processes associated with river channel and over
bank settings occur alongside wave and tidal action of the shallow
marine realm. Flora and fauna characteristic of land environments,
such as the growth of plants and the development of soils, are found
within a short distance of animals that are found exclusively in marine
conditions. These spatial associations of characteristics seen in modern
deltas occur as associations of facies in the stratigraphic record. Deltas
can therefore be considered in terms of sub environments, divisions of
the overall delta environment in which these combinations of
processes occur.

Delta-top subenvironments

Deta Top/Plain

Deltas are fed by a river or an alluvial fan and there is a transition


between the area that is considered part of the fluvial/alluvial
environment and the region that is considered to be the delta top or
delta plain. Delta channels can be as variable in form as a river and
may be meandering or braided, single or divided channels. Branching
of the river channel into multiple courses is common, to create a
distributary pattern of channels across the delta top. The coarsest
delta-top facies are found in the channels, where the flow is strong
enough to transport and deposit bedload material. These may be
vegetated under appropriate climatic conditions and in wet tropical
regions large, vegetated swamps may form on the delta top. These
may be sites for the accumulation of peat, although if there is
frequent overbank flow from the channel the deposit will be a mixture
of organic and clastic material to form a carbonaceous mud.

Interdistributary Bays

On deltas where the channels build out elongate lobes of sediment,


sheltered areas of shallow water may be protected from strong waves
and currents. These sheltered areas along the edge of the delta top are
called interdistributary bays
Delta-front sub environments

Sub Aqueous Mouth

At the mouth of the channels the flow velocity is abruptly reduced as the water enters the
standing water of the lake or sea. The delta front immediately forward of the channel
mouth is the site of deposition of bed load material as a sub aqueous mouth bar.

Delta slope

The current from the river is dissipated away from the channel mouth and wave energy
decreases with depth, leading to a pattern of progressively finer material being deposited
further away from the river mouth. the delta slope, is often shown as a steep incline away
from the delta top, but the slope varies from only 1 or 2 degree in many fine-grained
deltas to as much as 30 degree in some coarse-grained deltas.

River-borne suspended load enters the relatively still water of the lake or sea to form a
sediment plume in front of the delta. Fresh river water with a suspended load may have a
lower density than saline seawater and the plume of suspended fine particles will be
buoyant, spreading out away from the river mouth. As mixing occurs deposition out of
suspension occurs, with the finest, more buoyant particles traveling furthest away from
the delta front before being deposited in the prodelta region. Gravity currents may also
bring coarser sediment down the delta front and deposit material as turbidites

Deltaic successions

The definition of a delta includes the concept of progradation, that is,


deposition results in the sediment body building out into the lake or
sea. The sedimentary succession formed will therefore consist of
progressively shallower facies as the prodelta is overlain by the delta
front, which is in turn superposed by mouth-bar and delta-top
sediments. The succession formed by the progradation of a delta
therefore has a shallowing-up pattern, a series of strata that
consistently shows evidence of the younger beds being deposited in
shallower water than the older beds they overly . In the delta-front
subenvironment the deepest water facies, the prodelta deposits, are
the finest grained as they are deposited in the lowest energy setting.
In a shallowing-up succession they will be overlain by sediments of the
delta slope, which will tend to be a little coarser, and the shallowest
facies will be those of the mouth bars, which are typically sandy or
even gravelly sediment. The beds formed by delta progradation will
therefore show a coarsening-up pattern

VARIATIONS IN DELTA MORPHOLOGY AND


FACIES
The combinations of factors that control delta morphologies give rise
to a wide spectrum of possible delta characteristics. the Mississippi
Delta is fine-grained and river dominated, the Rhone Delta is mixed
sand and mud and is wave-dominated, the Skeidarasandur is mainly
gravelly with river and wave influence, and so on. Even with all the
possible positions within that plot, there is also the additional variable
of water depth to be added. Every modern delta will have individual
characteristics due to the different factors controlling its form, and it
may be expected that the deposits of ancient deltas will be similarly
variable.

1. Effects of grain size: fine-grained deltas

The deposits on a delta will include a high proportion of fine-grained


material if the fluvial system supplying it is a mixed-load river. Low
gradient, mixedload river channels characterise the lower tracts of
large river systems. Large rivers like these carry sediment that is
delivered to the delta as sandy bedload and a large suspended load of silt and
clay. Sand
deposition on the delta top is concentrated in the delta channels and
on adjacent levees, while the bulk of the delta plain and any
interdistributary bay areas are regions of mud accumulation . The
proximal mouth bars may also be sandy, but the rest of the delta slope
and prodelta receive sediment fall-out from the plume of suspended
sediment that issues from the river mouth . The delta front may also
be the site of mass flows: the wet, muddy sediment brought down by
the river may be transported by turbidity currents to deposit as
turbidites on the lower part of the delta front, in the prodelta area and
beyond. The proportion of sand in the delta deposits increases if the
feeder river provides more bed load sediment. Sandy bed load rivers
also transport material in suspension, but the delta environment
becomes a setting for deposition of sand in channels, as over bank
splays on the delta top and as shallow marine deposits in the upper
part of the delta front. Extensive sand bodies form as mouth bars,
perhaps reworked by wave and tide action.

1. Effects of grain size: coarse-grained deltas

Coarse-grained deltas, also referred to as fan deltas, are fed by pebbly


braided rivers or alluvial fans. They form adjacent to areas of steep
relief, where streams in the catchment areas of the rivers flow down
steep slopes carrying coarse material into rivers or on to alluvial fans
that prograde into a lake or the sea. Settings such as the faulted
margins of rift basins are typical sites for coarse-grained deltas to
form. Progradation of a coarse-grained delta across a shallow lake or
sea floor results in a coarsening-up succession from finer sands
deposited furthest offshore through coarser sands, granules, pebbles
and even cobbles or boulders at the top of the delta-front succession,
which is then overlain by coarse fluvial or alluvial fan facies of the delta
top. Coarse-grained deltas that display these characteristics have been
classified as ‘shelf-type fan deltas’ by Wescott & Ethridge (1990).

2. Water depth: shallow- and deep-water deltas

A delta progrades by sediment accumulating on the sea floor at the


delta front where it builds up to sea level to increase the area of the
delta top. For a given supply of sediment, the rate at which the delta
progrades will depend on the thickness of the sediment pile that must
be created to reach sea level. Delta progradation will hence occur at a
greater rate if it is building into a shallow sea or lake, and the area
covered by a delta lobe will be greater because it forms a thin,
widespread body of sediment. In contrast a delta building into deeper
water will form a thicker deposit that progrades at a slower rate

A delta building into shallow water will tend to have a large delta-plain
area. If the climate is suitable for abundant plant growth, peat mires
may develop on parts of the plain away from the delta channels and
delta successions that have developed in a shallow-water setting may
therefore include coal beds. The delta-front facies will all be deposited
in shallow water, and hence will be strongly influenced by processes
such as wave action . Sandy and gravelly deposits are therefore likely
to be relatively well sorted.

In deeper water, a greater proportion of the sediment will be deposited


in the lower part of the delta slope as a thicker coarsening-up
succession is generated during delta progradation . The area of the
delta top will be relatively small, with less potential for the
development of widespread finegrained delta-plain facies and mires.
Wave-reworked mouth-bar facies will be limited in extent because of
the small area of shallow water where wave action is effective.

3. Coarse-grained deep-water deltas

The combination of a supply of coarse sediment and a steep basin


margin results in a particular delta form that is unlike all other deltas
and therefore merits a special mention . They even have a special
name ‘Gilbert-type deltas’, named after the American geologist G.K.
Gilbert who first described deposits of this type in 1895. Gilbert-type
deltas have a characteristic three-part structure.

The topset (the delta top) is a subaerial to shallowmarine environment,


with gravels deposited by braided rivers and, in some cases, reworked
by wave processes at the shoreline. In front of the topset lies the
foreset (the delta front), which is very distinctive because the beds are
at a steep angle, typically up to around 30 degrees and close to the
angle of rest of material. Deposition on a foreset occurs by two
mechanisms (Nemec 1990b): debris flows of poorly sorted gravel
mixed with sand and mud, and well-sorted gravels deposited by a
grainflow (avalanche) process. Slumping is often seen on the delta
because the steep slopes of the foresets can become unstable. At the
base of the foreset slope sediments are finer, comprising mud, sand
and some gravel, which lie approximately horizontally and are the
products of turbidites and suspension deposition in a prodelta setting,
known in this context as the bottomset. As a Gilbert-type delta
progrades, the foreset builds out over the bottomset and in turn the
foreset is overlain by topset facies: the resulting deposit is in the form
of a sandwich of steeply-dipping conglomeratic strata between layers
of horizontal beds of conglomerate and sandstone.

ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF DELTAIC DEPOSITS

Ancient deltaic deposits are extremely important economically. They host most of the
world's coal, and many major petroleum provinces. Deltas make excellent petroleum
provinces because they fulfil all the conditions necessary for petroleum source bed
formation, petroleum generation, and entrapment.

The deltaic process is a way of depositing lobes of sand (potential reservoirs) into
envelopes of organic-rich marine muds (potential source beds). Deltaic environments
deposit many potential stratigraphic traps, including mouth bars, barrier bars, and
channels. Rapid deposition often leads to overpressuring. This may generate diapiric
traps and roll-over anticlines. Deltas need a basin, or at least some subsidence, before
they may form. Subsidence implies crustal stretching and thus increased heat flow. This
expedites the maturation of source beds. No wonder then that ancient deltas are major.
petroleum provinces. The Tertiary Niger Delta and the Tertiary Gulf Coast province of
the USA are two classic examples

Once a deltaic petrolum accumulation has been found, however, sedimentology must
be applied to develop it efficiently. The earlier discussion of fluvial reservoirs introduced
the problems of mapping channels, first trying to establish their continuity
deterministically, but then often having to resort to modelling the reservoir statistically.
Similar situations are encountered in deltaic reservoirs. Here the problems are
complicated by the fact that, not only may there be downslope trending channels, but
there may also be shallow marine sands elongated perpendicular to the distributaries.

RECOGNITION OF DELTAIC DEPOSITS

A key feature of many deltas is the close association of marine and


continental depositional environments. In delta deposits this
association is seen in the vertical arrangement of facies. A single delta
cycle may show a continuous vertical transition from fully marine
conditions at the base to a subaerial setting at the top. This transition
is typically within a coarseningupwards succession from lower energy,
finer grained deposits of the prodelta to the higher energy conditions
of the delta mouth bar where coarser sediment accumulates.

DELTA TOP DEPOSITS

The delta top contains both relatively coarse sediment of the


distributary channel as well as finer grained material in overbank areas
and interdistributary bays. The channel may be recognised by its
scoured base, a fining-up pattern and evidence of flow, which will be
unidirectional unless there is a strong tidal influence resulting in
bidirectional currents.
The delta top will show signs of subaerial conditions, including the
development of a soil. Deposits in the sheltered interdistributary bays
may show thin bedding resulting from influxes of sediment from the
delta top and symmetrical ripples due to wave action.

DELTA FRONT DEPOSITS


The shallower water deposits of the delta front may be extensively
reworked by wave and/or tidal action resulting in cross-stratified
mouth-bar facies. The geometry and extent of the mouth-bar sand
bodies will be determined by the relative importance of river, tidal and
wave processes.

PRO DELTA DEPOSITS

Deeper, lower delta slope deposits and prodelta facies are finer
grained, deposited from plumes of suspended material disgorged by
the river, or as turbidites that flowed down the delta front.

Deltaic deposits are almost exclusively composed of terrigenous clastic


material supplied by rivers. However, there are examples of deltas
formed by lavas and volcaniclastic material building out into the sea,
and these are not fed by water, but by the volcanic processes: the
term ‘non-alluvial delta’ may be applied to these deposits.

Palaeontological evidence from fauna and flora can be important in the


recognition of the marine and continental sub environments of a delta.
A distinct fauna tolerant of brackish water may be found near the
mouths of channels and in the interdistributary bays where fresh and
marine water mix. The mixture of shallow-marine, brackish and
freshwater fauna plus coastal vegetation is also characteristic of
deltaic environments. The contrast between fresh and saline water is
not present in deltas formed at the margins of freshwater lakes and in
these settings the recognition of the delta must be based on the facies
patterns.

Characteristics of deltaic deposits


1. Lithologies – conglomerate, sandstone and mudstone
2. Mineralogy – variable, delta-front facies may be compositionally
mature
3. Texture – moderately mature in delta-top sands and gravels,
mature in wave-reworked delta-front deposits
4. Bed geometry – lens-shaped delta channels, mouthbar lenses
variably elongate, prodelta deposits thin bedded
5. Sedimentary structures – cross-bedding and lamination in
delta-top and mouth-bar facies
6. Palaeocurrents – topset facies indicate direction of progradation,
wave and tidal reworking variable on delta front
7. Fossils – association of terrestrial plants and animals of the delta
top with marine fauna of the delta front
8. Colour – not diagnostic, delta-top deposits may be oxidized
9. Facies associations– typically occur overlying shallow- marine
facies and overlain by fluvial facies in an overall progradational
pattern.

ESTUARIES
An estuary is the marine-influenced portion of a drowned valley
(Dalrymple et al. 1992). A drowned valley is the seaward portion of a
river valley that becomes flooded with seawater when there is a
relative rise in sea level. They are regions of mixing of fresh and
seawater. Sediment supply to the estuary is from both river and
marine sources, and the processes that transport and deposit this
sediment are a combination of river and wave and/or tidal processes.
An estuary is different from a delta because in an estuary all the
sedimentation occurs within the drowned valley, whereas deltas are
progradational bodies of sediment that build out into the marine
environment. A stretch of river near the mouth that does not have a
marine influence would not be considered to be an estuary. Estuaries
are common features at the mouths of rivers in the present day
because since the last glacial period there has been a relative rise in
sea level.

Two end members are recognised (Dalrymple et al. 1992): wave-


dominated estuaries and tide-dominated estuaries, with a range of
intermediate forms in between. In addition to these two basic process
controls, the volume of the sediment supply and the relative
importance of supply from marine and fluvial sources also play an
important role in determining the facies distributions in an estuarine
succession. The extent of estuarine deposits will depend upon the size
of the valley and the depth to which it has been flooded. Modern
estuaries range from a few kilometres to over 100km long and from a
few hundred metres to over 10 km wide. The thickness of the
succession formed by filling an estuary is typically tens of metres.
Sedimentation in an estuary will eventually result in the drowned
valley filling to sea level and, unless there is further sea-level rise, the
area will cease to have an estuarine character. If there is a high rate of
fluvial sediment supply, deposition will start to occur at the mouth of
the river and a delta will start to form. Under conditions where the
marine processes are dominant, the river mouth will become an area
of tidal flats if tidal currents are strong, or the sediment will be
reworked and redistributed by wave processes to form a strand plain.
An estuary is therefore a temporary morphological feature, existing
only during and immediately after transgression while sediment fills up
the space created by the sea-level rise.

Wave-dominated estuaries

An estuary developed in an area with a small tidal range and strong


wave energy will typically have three divisions: the bay-head delta,
the central lagoon and the beach barrier.

Bay-Head Delta

The bay-head delta is the zone where fluvial processes are dominant.
As the river flow enters the central lagoon it decelerates and sediment
is deposited. The form and processes of a bay-head delta will be those
of a river-dominated delta, because the tidal effect is minimal and the
barrier protects the central lagoon from strong wave energy. A
coarsening-up, progradational succession will be formed, with channel
and overbank facies building out over sands deposited at the channel
mouth, which in turn overlies fine-grained deposits of the central
lagoon.

Central Lagoon

The lowest energy part of the estuarine system is the central lagoon,
where the river flow rapidly decreases and the wave energy is mainly
concentrated at the barrier bar. The central lagoon is therefore a
region of fine-grained deposition, often rich in organic material, similar
to normal lagoonal conditions .When the central lagoon becomes filled
with sediment it becomes a region of salt-water marshes crossed by
channels. In wave-dominated estuaries, parts of the lagoon that
receive influxes of sand may be areas where wave-ripples form and
these may also be draped with mud.

Beach Barrier

The outer part of a wave-dominated estuary is a zone where wave


action reworks marine sediment (bioclastic material and other
sediment reworked by longshore drift) to form a barrier. The
characteristics of the barrier will be the same as those found along
clastic coasts . An inlet allows the exchange of water between the sea
and the central lagoon, and if there is any tidal current, a flood-tidal
delta of marine-derived sediment may prograde into the central
lagoon.

Tide-dominated estuaries
Tidal processes may dominate in mesotidal and macrotidal coastal
regimes where tidal current energy exceeds wave energy at the
estuary mouth. The funnel shape of an estuary tends to increase the
floodtidal current strength, but decreases to zero at the tidal limit, the
landward extent of tidal effects in an estuary. The river flow strength
decreases as it interacts with the tidal forces that are dominant. Three
areas of deposition can be identified : tidal channel deposits, tidal
flats and tidal sand bars.

Tidal Channels

In the inner part of the estuary where the river channel is influenced by
tidal processes, the low-gradient channel commonly adopts a
meandering form (Dalrymple et al. 1992). Point bars form on the inner
banks of meander bends in the same way as purely fluvial systems,
but the tidal effects mean that there are considerable fluctuations in
the strength of the flow during different stages of the tidal cycle: when
a strong ebb tide and the river act together, the combined current may
transport sand, but a strong flood tide may completely counteract the
river flow, resulting in standing water, which allows deposition from
suspension. The deposits in the point bar are therefore heterolithic,
that is, they consist of more than one grain size, in this case
alternating layers of sand and mud (Reineck & Singh 1972). This style
of point-bar stratification has been called ‘inclined heterolithic
stratification’, sometimes abbreviated to ‘IHS’ (Thomas et al. 1987).
These alternating layers of sand and mud dipping in to the axis of the
channel (perpendicular to flow) are a distinctive feature of tidally
influenced meandering channels.

TIDAL FLATS
Adjacent to the channels and all along the sides of the estuary there
are tidal flat areas that are variably covered with seawater at high tide
and subaerially exposed at low tide. These are typically vegetated salt
marsh areas cut by tidal creeks that act as the conduits for water flow
during the tidal cycles. The processes and products of deposition in
these settings are the same as found in macrotidal settings
TIDAL SAND BARS

The outer part of a tide-dominated estuary is the zone of strongest


tidal currents, which transport and deposit both fluvially derived
sediment and material brought in from the sea. In macrotidal regions
the currents will be strong enough to cause local scouring and to move
both sand and gravel: bioclastic debris is common amongst the
gravelly detritus deposited as a lag on the channel floor (Reinson
1992). Dune bedforms are created and migrate with the tidal currents
to generate cross-bedded sandstone beds. Evidence for tidal
conditions in these beds may include mud drapes, reactivation
surfaces and herringbone cross-stratification. The mud drapes form as
the current slows down when the tide turns, and the reactivation
surfaces occur as opposing currents erode the tops of dune bedforms.

Recognition Of Estuarine Deposits

There are many features in common between the deposits of deltas


and estuaries in the stratigraphic record. Both are sedimentary bodies
formed at the interface between marine and continental environments
and consequently display evidence of physical, chemical and biological
processes that are active in both settings (e.g. an association of beds
containing a marine shelly fauna with other units containing rootlets).
The key difference is that a delta is a progradational sediment body,
that is, it builds out into the sea and will show a coarsening-up
succession produced by this progradation. In contrast, estuaries are
mainly aggradational, building up within a drowned river channel. The
base of an estuarine succession is therefore commonly an erosion
surface scoured at the mouth of the river, for example, in response to
sea level fall.

Characteristics of estuarine systems

Tidal channel systems

1. lithology – mud, sand and less commonly conglomerate


2. mineralogy – variable
3. texture – may be well sorted in high energy settings
4. bed geometry – lenses with erosional bases
5. sedimentary structures – cross-bedding and crosslamination
and inclined heterolithic stratification
6. palaeocurrents – bimodal in tidal estuaries
7. fossils – shallow marine
8. colour – not diagnostic
9. facies associations – may be overlain by fluvial, shallow
marine, continental or delta facies

Tidal mudflats

1. lithology – mud and sand


2. mineralogy – clay and shelly sand
3. texture – fine-grained, not diagnostic
4. bed geometry – tabular muds with thin sheets and lenses of
sand
5. sedimentary structures – ripple cross-lamination and
flaser/lenticular bedding
6. palaeocurrents – bimodal in tidal estuaries
7. fossils – shallow marine fauna and salt marsh vegetation
8. colour – often dark due to anaerobic conditions
9. facies associations – may be overlain by shallow marine or
continental facies

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