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U.S. Geological Survey
Menlo Park, California 94025

ABSTRACt: Sea cliffs on the north, west, and south sides of Willapa Bay, Washington, present excellent
exposures of Pleistocene estuary deposits. Analysis of these deposits and comparison of them with modem
facies in Willapa Bay indicate that a primary key to their interpretation is the delineation of stillstand units--
that is, shallowing-upwards bodies of sediment deposited at a particular stand of the sea. Once identified,
these units provide a basis for studying both vertical sequences and lateral trends as well as identifying the
effects of tectonic deformation.
To recognize a stillstand unit, one must infer the relative water depth represented by successive facies
or deposits. This inference in turn requires a distinction between intertidal and subtidal facies. In the anal-
ysis of the Willapa Bay deposits, a set of criteria for this distinction, derived largely from characteristics
of modem facies in the bay, proved useful.
Criteria for identifying deposits as subtidal include the presence of 1) abundant Ostrea lurida in growth
position; 2) units of inclined strata more than 2 m thick; 3) laterally persistent lag deposits; 4) laterally
persistent thin layers of mud; 5) medium- to large-scale crossbedding; 6) directionally uniform crossbedding
and ripple lamination; and 7) assemblages of predominantly concave-up shells and shell fragments. Of
these criteria the first is diagnostic of subtidal facies; the others are characteristic but not necessarily di-
agnostic of this environment. In association, however, the characteristic features provide generally adequate
evidence for the indicated facies.
Criteria for recognizing intertidal deposits include the presence of 1) root or rhyzome structures; 2)
evidence of runoff channels; 3) regular lamination characteristic of snpratidal deposits; 4.) supratidal bluff
breccia; and 5) vertical sequences in which upper accretionary bank deposits underlie those of the tide fiat,
which in turn underlie supratidal deposits. Some of these (root or rhyzome structures) are probably diag-
nostic of an intertidal facies; the others are characteristic of such a facies.

sediment deposited at various stands of the sea.
Estuarine deposition responds sensitively to In this way vertical sequences and lateral trends
changes in the level of the sea. Because es- within an individual estuary fill can be estab-
tuaries are sites of rapid deposition, many lished and the depositional history of the
quickly aggrade, at least in part, to an inter- succession of fills deciphered. In addition, the
tidal or slightly supratidal surface. Subsequent inclination of individual estuary fills relative to
changes of relative sea level in such estuaries, one another provides a key to their deforma-
whether tectonic or eustatic, generate further tional pattern and history. Typically, however,
episodes of accretion to new aggradational sur- laterally migrating tidal channels produce within
faces. Each fluctuation in sea level changes the the deposits numerous erosional surfaces that
size of the estuary, the magnitude of its tidal could be confused with surfaces separating dif-
prism, and the degree of stratification of its ferent units deposited at different levels of the
water--factors that can profoundly influence sea. In such a case, discrimination between
the pattern of sedimentation. Over time, a se- subtidal and intertidal facies not only allows
ries of deposits accumulates within the em- the units to be delineated but also may indicate
bayment, each related to a different stand of whether they represent stillstands or conditions
the sea. of changing sea level.
To analyze a succession of estuary deposits For the past several years we have been
in detail requires accurate correlation of the studying modern and ancient depositional fa-
cies in estuarine sediment at Willapa Bay,
Washington (Kvenvolden and others, 1977;
JManuscript received March 12, 1982; revised Novem- Luepke and Clifton, 1979; Clifton and Phil-
ber 16, 1982. lips, 1980). The ancient facies are well ex-


Copyright g 1983, The Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists 0022-4472/83/0053-0353/$03.00

posed in sea cliffs that are cut into Pleistocene Along the margins of the estuary lie salt
terrace deposits. This study has required us to marshes and supratidal flats (Fig. 1). Vegeta-
identify individual estuary fills--that is to de- tion in the marshes, which are inundated by
lineate deposits formed at different stands of the highest astronomical tides, consists mostly
the sea and, in the course of that work, to de- of stands of Triglochin and Salicornia. The su-
velop criteria for distinguishing between sub- pratidal flats, in contrast, are broad meadows
tidal and intertidal deposits. that are inundated only when meterological tides
Many of the criteria employed to identify accompanying floods or storms are superim-
depositional environments in other ancient tidal posed on astronomical high tides.
facies (see, for example, Ginsburg, 1975) were The composition of sediment in the estuary
not useful in the Willapa study. The general (Fig. 2) depends on location and environment
absence of bedding-plane exposures in the sea (Clifton and Phillips, 1980). From the mouth
cliffs made it nearly impossible to observe fea- of the estuary well into its central part, the in-
tures such as mud cracks, vertebrate foot- tertidal fiats are composed of well-sorted fine
prints, or ripple patterns. Moreover, studies of sand. Here mud collects only in local depres-
modern day facies (for example, Dories and sions or on the leeward side of high areas that
others, 1969; Howard and Frey, 1973; Visher partly block the passage of waves. In the upper
and Howard, 1974; Greer, 1975; Howard and part of the estuary, tidal flats are predomi-
others, 1975; Barwis, 1978) rarely provide nantly muddy and supratidal flats consist al-
specific indicators of the intertidal and subtidal most exclusively of muddy sediment. The tex-
environments. Therefore, a specific set of cri- ture of the sediment flooring the tidal channels
teria based largely on observation of features also becomes finer in a riverward direction, and
in the modern Willapa Bay sediment was de- in the upper estuary it tends to be somewhat
veloped. This paper presents and evaluates these coarser than that on the adjacent tidal flats.
criteria and presents briefly the interpretation Bordering much of the bay on the north, east,
of the terrace deposits that issued from this ap- and south sides are cliffs cut into Pleistocene
proach. terrace deposits. The best preserved terrace lies
between Goose Point and Pickernell Creek (Fig.
3) at an elevation of about 13 m above mean
sea level; it is underlain by deposits on the or-
Willapa Bay lies a short distance north of der of 100,000 to 200,000 years old (Kven-
the mouth of the Columbia River on the south- volden and others, 1979). The fauna and the
west coast of Washington (Fig. 1). A spit about sedimentary features in this set of deposits
20 km long and averaging 2.4 km wide sep- closely resemble the fauna and features indig-
arates the bay from the ocean. The estuary en- enous to the modern bay. The strata under the
compasses an area of about 350 km 2 at high 13-m terrace abut deposits that underlie older,
tide and 150 km 2 at low tide (Andrews, 1965). higher, and more dissected terraces. The age
The maximum tidal range approaches 4 m. of sediment under these older terraces is un-
Unlike many estuaries, Willapa Bay is not certain; some beds contain an extinct clam
dominated by a single stream; instead, several whose presence suggests an age as old as Pli-
small rivers empty into the bay. ocene (W. O. Addicott, 1974, written comm.).
More than half of the bay consists of broad Although sea-cliff exposure is nearly contin-
intertidal fiats, which locally extend more than uous over extensive distances along Willapa
a kilometer from the shore (Fig. 1). These flats Bay, the deciphering of stratigraphic relation-
are cut by tidal channels of various depths; the ships was sometimes extremely difficult. The
channel central to the bay is more than 20 m terrace deposits consist of a complicated array
deep, whereas most of the tributary channels of interchanneled sequences of sand, mud, and
are less than 10 m deep. The typical smaller gravel in which abrupt lateral changes of li-
channel here is asymmetric in cross section, thology are common. Accordingly, much of
one of its banks depositional and gently in- the study of the ancient estuarine facies has fo-
clined, the other erosional and steep. The tidal cused on the relatively continuous, well-pre-
flats also are crossed by runoff channels that served deposits that underlie the 13-m terrace,
are graded approximately to the lowest low- although excellent examples of intertidal and
tide level. subfidal facies exist in the older deposits as well.

124° 00'

~....:....:.....::.::,.:..~-~,,,?,,~.t ~ ' ;V--~--~I


8ubtidal channel

HTmSubtidal flat
Intertidal flat ,~I Point

Salt marsh and

supratidal flat



Lynn Point

0 5

FIG. l.--Physiography of Willapa Bay, Washington.



The only evidence (Table 1) considered here

to be diagnostic of a subtidal environment is
faunal. In its modem occurrence, the native
oyster, Ostrea lurida, thrives only in the sub-
tidal environment, presumably because this thin-
valved oyster cannot tolerate the thermal
changes effected by subaerial exposure (Hop-
kins, 1937). Scattered articulated and disartic-
ulated shells and shell fragments of O. turida
occur in the modem intertidal zone at Willapa
Bay, but living concentrations of this species
occur only in the subtidal zone. Its presence in
growth position (Fig. 4) in the Pleistocene de-
posits is taken to imply subtidal deposition.
Other fossils or trace fossils seem to be of little
use for discriminating between intertidal and
subtidal facies in the terrace deposits at Wil-
Other features, if not diagnostic, are consid-
ered to be highly characteristic of a subtidal
setting; that is, their presence suggests, rather
than requires, a subtidal condition. These fea-
tures, which--especially in association--pro-
Ft~. 2.--General distribution of sediment in Willapa vide useful clues toward recognizing this en-
Bay relative to physiographic features Icompare Fig. 1). vironment, are 1) large-scale cross-stratification
(the "epsilon" type of Allen, 1963); 2) wide-
spread lag deposits; 3) thin, laterally extensive

FIG. 3.--Pleistocene terrace deposits exposed in sea cliffs along east side of Willapa Bay.

TABLE l.---Summary of criteria for intertidal and subtidal facies that are applied to Pleistocene deposits, Willapa Bay,

Crltedon Subtidall Intertidal

I. Abundant Ostrea lurida in growth
position Locally present Absent
2. Lag deposits Commonly many cm Thin, restricted in extent
thick, extensive, bio-
3. Units of gently inclined (epsilon)
cross-stratification Commonly >2 m thick <2 m thick
4. Medium- to large-scale high-angle
crossbedding Abundant Uncommon
5. Crossbedding and ripple lamina-
tion Directionally parallel Directionally inconsistent
6. Thin discrete layers of mud in Laterally persistent (ex- Discontinuous (extend for few meters)
well-sorted sand tend for tens of me-
7. Shells and shell fragments Dominantly concave-up Dominantly convex-up only
or convex-up
8. Roots and rhyzomes Absent, except for up- Locally present
permost part
9. Small, steep-walled channels Generally absent Locally present
10. Thin, regular alternations of clay
silt and fine sand Uncommon Locally abundant
11. Breccia composed of laminated
mud blocks Uncommon Locally present
12. Vertical sequences Bioturbated lag deposits Stratified deposits underlie structureless
underlie stratified sed- deposits, which in turn underlie regn-
iment larly laminated fine sand, silt, and

mud layers; 4) abundant trough and tabular sets generally are less than 2 m deep) or to bluffs
of high-angle crossbedding; 5) consistency in (which are nondepositional features) that are
the orientation of ripple lamination and cut into supratidal deposits. In contrast, the re-
crossbedding; and 6) predominantly concave- lief of the subtidal channels generally exceeds
up shells and shell fragments. 2 m and can exceed 20 m. On the bank of such
The presence of cross-stratification on a large a channel, accretion produces crossbedding on
scale (>2 m thick) in deposits composed of a scale much greater than that likely to occur
mud or of interbedded sand and mud (Fig. 5) in intertidal deposits. Within the intertidal zone
strongly indicates a subtidal environment. The the uppermost, fluvially dominated reaches of
intertidal areas of the modem bay generally have the tidal channels may have steep banks, but
little relief; steeply inclined banks are re- the general absence of bioturbation distin-
stricted to the margins of runoff channels (which guishes such deposits from those formed else-
where in the tidal channels. In macrotidal bays
(tidal range greater than 4 m), the intertidal re-
lief may exceed 2 m and the presence of large-
scale cross-strata may not be a valid criterion
for distinguishing between intertidal and sub-
tidal facies (Klein, 1971).
Lag deposits of shells, wood fragments,
pebbles, or mud clasts are common both in tidal
channels (subtidal environment; Larsonneur,
1975) and in runoff channels (either subtidal
or intertidal; Klein, 1963). The lag deposits in
tidal channels are more extensive (from tens to
hundreds of meters) and thicker (up to or ex-
ceeding a meter) than are those in the runoff
Fro. 4 . - - P l e i s t o c e n e shell lag deposit exposed in sea
cliff just south of Goose Point (Fig. 1). Note Ostrea lur-
channels. Similar concentrations of coarse clasts
ida in living position (upright paired valves at level o f elsewhere in the intertidal environments are re-
machete handle). Same unit is shown in Figure 13. stricted to narrow beaches along the shore of

Fic. 5.--Large-scale cross-stratification north of Ramsey Point (Fig. 1). Unit of cross-strata is 6 to 7 m thick.

the bay, where they form a fibbonlike deposit. extend for tens of meters along the floors and
In other bays, intertidal banks of living mol- banks of modem tidal channels in the bay. Lat-
lusks such as Mytilus edulis (DaBoll, 1969) can erally extensive thin mud layers are therefore
produce areally broad concentrations of shells, considered to be characteristic of the subtidal
but such concentrations could be distinguished environment.
by the predominance of bank-forming species In the modem bay, megaripples and sand
and absence of other lag material. It follows waves as much as a meter high occur locally
that widespread thick accumulations of coarse on sandy intertidal flats, mostly in the lower-
debris (Fig. 4) suggest a subtidal origin, par- most part of the intertidal zone, where they are
ticularly if they contain pebbles or clasts of mud exposed by the lowest spring tides (Fig. 7).
or wood. Cores taken in the troughs of the structures
Thin, laterally extensive layers of mud in- commonly show little or no stratification, ow-
tercalated in well-sorted sand (Fig. 6) are a ing to bioturbation. These structures are much
common feature in the Pleistocene terrace de- more common on subtidal banks and channel
posits. Similar intercalations are present in the floors, where their height may exceed 3 m.
intertidal deposits of the modem bay, but gen- Subtidal cores in areas of these bedforms show
erally they are restricted here to local topo- well-defined medium- and large-scale
graphic depressions less than 10 m across. Mud crossbedding (Clifton and Phillips, 1980). Ac-
that accumulates elsewhere on the intertidal flats cordingly, abundant trough and tabular sets of
is intermixed with sand by bioturbation. Ex- medium- to large-scale crossbeds in the pres-
tensive laminae of mud occur in supratidal de- ent bay deposit are more likely to be of sub-
posits, but the laminae are not interbedded with tidal than of intertidal origin. Other mesotidal
well-sorted sand. In contrast, thin layers of mud estuaries, such as those on the northeastern coast

FIG. 6.--Laterally persistent mud and sand interbeds in Pleistocene terrace deposits. Machete blade is about 40 cm

of the United States, have well-developed sand- nation has shown that double mud drapes oc-
wave fields in intertidal areas, particularly near cur within crossbedded Pleistocene sands re-
inlets (DaBoll, 1969; Greer, 1969; Boothroyd garded as subtidal on the basis of other
and Hubbard, 1975; Hine, 1975). Again, how- evidence.
ever, sand waves and megaripples are abun- The orientation of ripple lamination relative
dant throughout the adjacent subtidal reaches, to that of associated crossbedding provides an-
and Reineck's (1972) generalization that other possible criterion for distinguishing be-
"crossbedding of megaripples is rare in the in- tween the two environments. Ripples are pro-
tertidal zone but is common in the channels" duced in estuarine sand by tidal currents in or
appears to be valid for mesotidal estuaries. In adjacent to tidal channels, by wave activity on
a macrotidal setting, however, such crossbed- the intertidal flats, or by runoff as intertidal
ding may be common to both intertidal and fiats are exposed. Large structures--sand waves
subtidal facies (Dalrymple and others, 1978). and megaripples--are produced almost exclu-
Another criteria for subtidal deposits may be sively by tidal currents. In the subtidal envi-
the presence of double mud layers along ronment, both ripples and larger bedforms mi-
crossbedding foresets (Visser, 1980). These grate under the influence of the tidal currents.
layers are deposited at slack water at high and The orientation of crossbedding produced by
low tide on the slip faces of sand waves that larger bedforms is, in most places, unidirec-
migrate significantly only under either the ebb- tional or nearly so, depending on the degree of
or flood-tidal current. Intertidal sand waves are dominance of the ebb or flood tide (Allen,
exposed at low tide and accordingly only the 1980). In most parts of the subtidal channels,
mud drape deposited at slack water during high the velocity of one of these currents substan-
tide could be deposited. This distinction was tially exceeds that of the other (Ludwick, 1975).
not noted in our coting of sand waves in the Within the larger bedforms, which because of
modem bay sediment, but subsequent exami- their size and form migrate relatively slowly,

FIG. 7 . - - S a n d waves exposed on lowermost intertidal fiats west of Goose Point, adjacent to main tidal channel
(Fig. 1).

only those foresets that reflect the dominant Clifton, 1971). The tidal channels in question
current are preserved (Clifton and Phillips, are swept by tidal currents that at times exceed
1980). Ripple lamination, in contrast, is formed several tens of centimeters per second, pro-
by smaller structures that respond readily to both ducing local concentrations that lie convex-up.
ebb and flood, and it is therefore likely to show In the intervals between such currents, how-
an opposing bipolar orientation (see, for ex- ever, intense faunal activity--feeding, crawl-
ample, Dorjes and others, 1969, fig. 8). In the ing, and burrowing--produces a general con-
subtidal environment, the linear orientation of cave-up orientation in many parts of the
the poles should be parallel to the dip direction channel.
of associated crossbedding. In the intertidal
environment, however, waves and runoff cur-
rents generate tipples that commonly trend dif- CRITERIA FOR IDENTIFYING ENVIRONMENTS AS
ferently from any associated sand waves. Con-
sistency of orientation between ripple bedding As with subtidal deposits, few criteria arc
and larger scale crossbedding is therefore con- diagnostic of an intertidal environment in the
sidered to be characteristic of the subtidal en- Willapa Bay Pleistocene terrace deposits. The
vironment. most convincing evidence for subaerial expo-
The orientation of concavo-convex clasts such sure is the presence of fossil-root or rhyzome
as pelecypod valves or valve fragments may systems. In many exposures, dead roots or
provide another clue to environment. In an in- rhyzome systems of Holocene plants extend into
tertidal setting, shells everywhere lie predom- Pleistocene deposits where they can be mis-
inantly with convex sides up, presumably ow- taken for Pleistocene plant remains. Fortu-
ing to the action of waves and currents (Van nately, some plants that have distinctive rhy-
Straaten, 1952). The floor of tidal channels, in zomes, such as the sea grass Zostera and the
contrast is locally littered with pelecypod valves marsh grass Triglochin, rarely, if ever, grow
that lie predominantly with concave sides up. on terrace surfaces. Moreover, Pleistocene roots
Such an orientation is elsewhere produced in and rhyzome systems are generally confined to
quiet water by faunal activity (Emery, 1968; discrete stratigraphic intervals within the de-

posits and are unrelated to the present terrace The presence of Zostera marina rhyzomes in-
surface. dicates an intertidal or uppermost subtidal or-
Triglochin maritima is one of the more com- igin.
mon plants of the modem WiUapa salt marshes. The roots and rhyzomes of other, unidenti-
The plant can tolerate daily submergence, but fied fossil plants occur in the terrace deposits.
generally it thrives only in upper intertidal areas Commonly they occur stratigraphically at or
or in adjacent alkaline marshes. The rhyzome near the top of a muddy sequence, beneath an
system of Triglochin is a distinctive aggregate erosional surface at the base of a subsequent
of leaf bases, up to a centimeter across, that bay deposit (Fig. 9). Their presence is taken
radiate upward concavely from a stout prolif- to indicate subaerial exposure, as on supratidal
erating rhyzome. Leaf bases and roots char- fiats or within a valley fill.
acterize the rhyzome. Individual clumps of Muddy intertidal flats are crossed by sin-
rhyzome aggregates can exceed a meter in di- uous, dendritic runoff channels (Fig. 10). In
ameter. Fossil specimens are readily recogniz- cross section the dimensions of these channels
able in the Pleistocene deposits (Fig. 8). Be- range from as much as l0 m across and 2 m
cause Triglochin maritima can grow under deep in the major trunks to less than a meter
alkaline fresh-water conditions, the presence across and several tens of centimeters deep in
of the rhyzomes does not necessarily imply a the smaller tributaries. Sections across the larger
tidal setting. It does, however, document sub- channels are asymmetric--one bank is ero-
aerial exposure that, in concert with other evi- sional and steep, the other gently inclined and
dence, can document an intertidal deposit. aggradational. Because runoff channels are
The sea grass Zostera marina covers the in- graded approximately to the lowest tide level,
tertidal fiats in many places, but the growth is their presence in ancient deposits implies an
most dense just below the position of the low- intertidal position.
est low tides, where it grows on relatively steep Runoff channels have several identifying
submerged banks a meter or so high that stand characteristics. The smaller ones tend not to
at the margins of tidal channels at low tide. migrate but rather to fill after they become in-
The rhyzomes consist of single subhorizontal active; they therefore typically are narrow and
strands several millimeters thick that swell at deeply incised (Fig. 11). The larger channels,
the nodes. Fine hairlike roots protrude alter- in contrast, migrate laterally, and ancient
nately up and down from the nodes. The Pleis- channel margins may not be present in limited
tocene rhyzomes tend to be both flattened and exposure. Filling of these channels occurs pri-
most visible on bedding-plane surfaces, where marily by deposition on the aggradational banks.
they resemble macerated plant detritus. Fine The resulting deposit is distinctive. Cores
roots extending from the rhyzome into the mud through these banks show an intricate, some-
above or below enable us to recognize them. what lenticular interlarnination of sand, mud,
and organic detritus (Fig. 12) that is not com-
mon to other depositional environments in the
estuary. The aggradational banks of migrating
runoff channels are among the steepest accre-
tionary surfaces in the estuary. Continued de-
position on these surfaces produces units of
crossbedded mud 0.5 to 2 m thick that, on close
inspection, are revealed to be thinly but rather
irregularly laminated in both modem (Fig. 13)
and ancient examples.
Intertidal flats in general are broad, nearly
horizontal surfaces on which the rate of sedi-
mentation is very low relative to the associated
channel banks (Van Straaten, 1954). Accord-
ingly, unless local conditions inhibit faunal ac-
FIO. 8.--Triglochin rhyzomes of Pleistocene age in
terrace deposits south of Goose Point (Fig. I). Long, nar-
tivity, this sediment typically is intensely bio-
row objects on lower part of exposure are blades of mod- turbated. Such inhibition occurs locally on
em Zostera washed in by the tide. slightly higher parts of the flats, for example

FIG. 9.--Pleistocene roots and rhyzomesin a fossil supratidal deposit. Straight subvertical marks were made in the
process of clearing the outcrop face. Note lamination in mud above centimeter scale and absence of root structures
tn light-coloredmud at top of the photo.

on faintly developed levees of runoff channels is infrequently saturated with water. Deposi-
or on circular or elliptical mounds several me- tion occurs primarily during periods of flood-
ters across and a few centimeters high. The ing within the estuary and is caused either by
surface of these higher areas commonly is cov- high river discharge or by storm surges. The
ered during summer months by dense mats of resulting sediment consists of interlaminated
filamentous green algae. Immediately beneath fine sand, silt, and mud. The laminations are
the mats are rich concentrations of organic ma- thin (generally less than a few millimeters thick)
terial that presumably are the result of earlier and laterally persistent (Fig. 14). Roots and
algae growth. This material is little burrowed, rhyzomes are abundant, but bioturbation is
presumably because its decomposition de- minimal. The suprafidal facies closely resem-
pletes available oxygen in the adjacent sedi- bles overbank deposits in a fluvial system; it
ment. The resulting deposit is characterized by is, however, quite distinctive within an es-
horizontal layers of very fine sand, a milli- tuarine assemblage.
meter or so thick, interspersed with lamina- The supratidal flats locally advance and re-
tions of carbonaceous mud of more variable treat into the modem bay, accreting laterally
thickness. over salt marshes in some places and eroding
Infaunal activity is also inhibited in supra- back elsewhere as a consequence of erosion by
tidal areas, probably because the sediment there waves or by shifting channels. Where eroded,

FiG. lO.--Muddy intertidal flats east of Goose Point (Fig. 1) crossed by dendritic runoff channels. Largest runoff
channel is about lO m across.

the supratidal flats are bounded by distinct pratidal mud clasts therefore suggests deposi-
scarps or bluffs, the base of which correspond tion in an intertidal environment. A sheetlike
approximately to the high-tide position. Blocks distribution over bioturbated mud would fur-
that fall or slump from this bluff weld them- ther indicate a supratidal-bluff breccia, a po-
selves to the underlying upper intertidal mud tentially valuable approximation of the high-
to form a supratidal-bluff breccia (Fig. 15). If tide position.
the supratidal deposits advance over the ero- The distribution of facies within an intertidal
sional surface, this breccia is incorporated into deposit depends strongly on topographic po-
the sedimentary record. Supratidal blocks may sition, and the lateral shifting of physiographic
also fall into tidal creeks or runoff channels in features across the intertidal zone produces
their upper reaches. A breccia composed of su- several types of distinctive vertical sequences.
Among these is an upward transition from gently
inclined, interbedded sand and mud (subtidal
or intertidal accretionary bank), to thoroughly
bioturbated mud or sand (intertidal fiat), to
finely laminated mud with root structures (su-
pratidal flat). A supratidal-bluff breccia may
separate the intertidal and supratidal deposits.
Runoff-channel deposits occur locally, typi-
cally between the intertidal flat and intertidal-
subtidal accretionary bank deposits. Runoff-
channel deposits are characterized by an up-
ward transition from a thin, more or less struc-
tureless accumulation of mud, mud clasts,
shells, and wood fragments (channel floor) to
F1o. 11 .--Filled small runoff channel in Pleistocene muddy cross-strata composed of highly and
terrace deposits north of Pickernel[ Creek (Fig. 1). somewhat irregularly interlaminated sand, silt,

and is exposed intermittently in the sea cliffs

between Goose Point and Pickemell Creek (Fig.
1). Unless one considers sea-level positions,
the task of correlating the units and interpret-
ing the history of the succession is nearly im-
The stratigraphic relations of the units are
best seen in sea-cliff exposures between Ram-
sey Point and the small point 1.8 km to the
north (Figs. 1 and 16). The basal unit (I) is
laminated or bioturbated bluish-gray mud. It is
locally overlain by bioturbated muddy sand or
crossbedded sand (unit II) that in turn is cut by
channels filled by mud that contains abundant
plant detritus (unit III). These three units are
overlain by laterally heterogeneous interbed-
ded sand and mud (unit IV). The youngest unit
(V) consists primarily of light-brown lami-
nated mud that fills channels carved into the
older four units.
It is impossible to interpret the history of the
succession on the basis of the description above.
Conceivably, all five units could have been
produced in a single estuary by shifting pat-
terns of deposition and channeling. By means
of the criteria presented here (Table 2), how-
ever, a history of sea-level positions emerges
that in turn provides a basis for correlating the
deposits that underlie the 13-m terrace. These
FIG. 12.--X-ray radiograph of stratification within the interpretations, when combined with the dat-
accrefionary bank of an intertidal runoff channel. Bar scale ing of shells in these deposits by amino-acid
is in centimeters.
racemization techniques (Kvenvolden and oth-
ers, 1979), allow these geologic units to be
clay, and organic detritus (runoff-channel ac- placed in the glacial history of the late Pleis-
cretionary bank). Such vertical sequences offer tocene.
valuable criteria for identifying ancient inter- Unit I is interpreted as being primarily an
tidal deposits. intertidal deposit (Table 2). Zostera-like rhy-
Features such as mud cracks and vertebrate zomes lie in the mud at the base of the sea cliff
footprints are found locally on the modern in- 200 m north of the unnamed point. Other root
tertidal flats, and they should provide excellent structures occur in the uppermost exposure of
evidence of an intertidal (or subaerially ex- the mud about 2 m above the base of the cliff
posed) environment. Because of the general in the same area. A similar blue-gray mud crops
absence of bedding-plane exposure, these out intermittently in the lower part of the cliff
structures have yet to be recognized in the between Goose Point and Pickernell Creek (Fig.
Pleistocene terrace deposits. 1). In its exposures near Goose Point, that mud
contains Zostera and Triglochin rhyzomes and
weU-defmed large runoff-channel deposits, and
includes a consistent upward transition from
The foregoing criteria provide a basis for in- gently inclined laminated fine sand and mud
terpreting complex assemblages of estuary-fill (uppermost subtidal channel bank), through
deposits. For example, the deposits that un- runoff-channel deposits (where present), to
derlie the 13-m terrace on the east side of Wil- thoroughly bioturbated mud containing fiat,
lapa Bay consist of at least five interchanneled diffuse fine-sand laminae on the order of a
units. Each unit is lithologically heterogeneous centimeter thick (intertidal flat). Between

FIG. 13.--Mud crossbedding produced by Pleistocene intertidal runoff channel in terrace deposits south of Goose
Point (Fig. 1). Note vertical sequence of gently inclined mud stratification that passes upward through mud cross-
strata to structureless mud (with many borings beneath thick lag deposit of shells). Machete with 40 cm blade in
center of photo.

Ramsey Point and Pickernell Creek outcrops Unit II contains abundant casts of Ostrea
of similar mud contain Zostera and Triglochin lurida in growth position about 400 m north of
rhyzomes, other root structures, and small run- the unnamed point, and it is therefore consid-
off channels at approximately the same ele- ered to be of subtidal origin (Table 2). It is
vation. All of these exposures are considered correlated with intensely crossbedded sand that
to be parts of unit I and to have formed at a overlies unit I north and south of Ramsey Point,
time when sea level stood about 2 m above its and with Ostrea lurida-bearing mud at Lynn
present position. The vertical distribution of Point (Fig. 1), primarily on the basis of its re-
structures resembles that in modem bay sedi- lations in these places with unit III. No evi-
ment, which thereby suggests a tidal range dence of intertidal facies could be found in unit
similar to that today in the bay. Dating of shells II at any of these sites. Accordingly, it is con-
in this unit south of Goose Point indicates an sidered to have been deposited when sea level
age of about 190,000 years 13.P. (Kvenvolden stood substantially higher than its present po-
and others, 1979) and deposition during the sition. Dates for the shells at Lynn Point in-
marine oxygen-isotope Stage 7 of Shackleton dicate that unit II is about the same age as or
and Opdyke (1973). The essentially horizontal slightly younger than unit I, deposited during
nature of the intertidal-subtidal boundary where the high stands of the sea associated with Stage
exposed in unit I suggests an absence of tec- 7.
tonic tilting of these terrace deposits in a north- Throughout most of the exposure, an ero-
south section. sional contact separates unit I and unit II; this

Fro. 1 5 . - - X - r a y radiograph o f m o d e r n supratidal bluff

breccia. Laminated block o f supratidal m u d (above) is
welded to structureless intertidal m u d (below). Bar scale
is in centimeters.

relation suggests that unit II may also be a still-

s~nd unit, even though the exposure is limited
FIG. 1 4 . - - X - r a y radiograph o f m o d e m supratidal mud.
vertically and does not display an upward-
Note regular bedding and abundant dark roots or rhy-
zomes. C o m p a r e with Figure 9, Bar scale is in centi- shallowing sequence. In exposures just north
meters. of Pickernell Creek, however, Triglochin-

TAnLE 2.--Distribution of subtidal and intertidal criteria among units in Pleistocene terrace deposils. Goose Point to Pickernell

unil 1 uait It unit lit unit IV unit V

1. Oystrea lurida in growth position absent present absent present absent
2. Extensive lag deposits absent absent absent present present
3. Large-scale (>2-m cross-strata) absent present absent present present
4. High-angle crossbedding absent present absent present present
5. Directionally constant ripple lami-
nation/crossbedding present -- present not noted
6. Laterally persistent sand-mud inter-
layers absent present absent present present
7. Concave-up shells not noted not noted no shells present no shells
8. Vertical progression: bioturbated absent absent absent present minimal bio-
lag to stratified sediment turbation
1. Roots and rhyzomes present absent present absent absent
2. Small. steep-walled channels present absent absent absent absent
3. Mud cross-strata (<2-m thick) present absent absent absent absent
4. ~Supratidal" lamination present absent present absent absent
5. Supratidal bluff-breccia present absent not noted absent absent
6. Vertical progressions: stratified to
structureless (and possibly to ~su-
pratidally laminated" sediment) present absent absent absent absent
INTERPRETATION intertidal subtidal intertidal subtidal subtidal (or
or subaqueous
higher fluvial)

bedding), laterally persistent mud layers, and
[~ Unit V Tlf~t /.~ t M. . . . . -- abundant crossbedding where it is sandy. It is
Unit IV / / Terrace
inferred that unit IV includes similar deposits
°°,,,,, j/
overlying unit I at and south of Goose Point,
deposits that contain an extensive thick lag
°°,, ,, \ composed of disarticulated shells, pebbles,
wood fragments, and abundant shells includ-
/ / 13 meter ' \ ing Ostrea lurida in growth position. Unit IV
/ Terrace aurface /
is also correlated with similar deposits south
of Ramsey Point which fill channels that are
floored by unit III and which locally contain
Tidee f flat
at c., beds of Ostrea lurida.
If, as seems likely, the 13-m terrace is a sur-
METERS ~an3 face of aggradation rather than of erosion, then
one would expect the presence of intertidal fa-
FIG. 16.--Sketch of stratigraphic relations to either side cies just beneath the platform. Unfortunately,
of the small unnamed point north of Ramsey Point (Fig. the development of a pronounced soil profile
1). Unit I is intertidal mud; unit II, subtidal sand; unit III, everywhere obscures the features in the upper
mud with roots or rhyzomes; unit IV, subtidal mud and 2 to 3 m of unit IV. The unit seems to be con-
sand; and unit V, fluvial (or fluvial-tidal sand and mud.
sistently muddy at the top, but this may reflect
textural alteration that was imposed by weath-
ering rather than a depositional sequence that
bearing mud of unit I grades up into mud con- changes upward into a muddy intertidal/su-
taining abundant casts and molds of marine pratidal facies. Nonetheless, it seems probable
molluscs, which suggests that, here, a trans- that unit IV represents a shallowing-upward
gressive sequence between units I and II is pre- stillstand unit formed when the sea stood at the
served. position of the 13-m terrace. The general litho-
Unit III consists of wood-bearing mud that logic similarity to the deposits in the present
fills channels cut in units I and II. In all of its bay (for example, cross-bedded sand grades
exposures south of the unnamed point and at laterally into laminated muds at the same gen-
Lynn Point, roots and rhyzomes including those eral mid-to-upper-bay locations) suggests a tidal
of Triglochin can be found (Table 2). No evi- range similar to that of today. Dates on shells
dence of subtidal (or intertidal) facies is pres- from this unit near Goose Point and from ex-
ent in this unit, and it is infer~d to have orig- posures about 3 km north of Ramsey Point
inated at a time when the sea stood at an consistently indicate its age to be about 100,000
undetermined position below its present level, years (Kvenvolden and others, 1979). Unit IV
during or following a period when the older accordingly appears to have formed during the
deposits underwent substantial subaerial dis- high stand of the sea associated with isotope
section. No dates are available for unit III, but Stage 5.
by inference considering units II and IV, it ap- Unit V, like unit III, consists predominantly
pears to have originated during or at the end of channel fill. It differs from unit III, how-
of the sea-level lowering that was associated ever, in several important respects. The bulk
with marine oxygen-isotope Stage 6. Whether of unit V consists of laminated mud that shows
sea level was static or not during deposition of little to no bioturbation. The lamination con-
unit III is uncertain; the unit could very likely sists mostly of clay layers several millimeters
represent backfilling of valleys during an en- thick separated by fine partings of fine sand
suing rise of sea level. and silt. The laminae commonly compose gently
Unit IV is the most laterally continuous of inclined cross-strata units as much as several
the late Pleistocene terrace deposits; in most meters thick. The axes of the channels at the
places it extends to the top of the 13-m terrace. unnamed point and at Ramsey Point are marked
In its exposure north of the unnamed point (Fig. by abundant logs and large wood fragments that
16), the unit meets several criteria of subtidal lie parallel to the axis, as well as by concen-
deposition (Table 2), including very large-scale trations of pebbles and coarse sand. No roots
mud and sand cross-strata (accretionary bank or rhyzomes have been found anywhere in unit
368 H. E D W A R D C L I F T O N

V (Table 2). The lithology of the deposit, its geographic regions in which the species in
confinement to channels, and the absence of question have existed). Nonetheless, their
bioturbation all suggest a dominance of fluvial demonstrated value at Willapa Bay suggests
or upper-estuarine conditions. The channel fill that they may well facilitate the interpretation
extends, like unit IV, to the 13-m terrace sur- of other ancient mesotidal estuaries that formed
face, which suggests that both units are graded under temperate climatic conditions.
to the same sea-level position. The age of unit Applied to late Pleistocene terrace deposits
V is uncertain, but it is interpreted to be a late, at Willapa Bay, the criteria allowed for the
dominantly fluvial stage in the filling of the identification of specific depositional units.
100,000-year-old estuary. Most appear to be stillstand units, although
transgressive sequences seem to be preserved
during the backfilling of upper estuarine val-
leys or fluvial ravines. The horizontal persis-
The interpretation of many ancient estuary tence in the oldest of these units of intertidal
fills depends upon accurate determination of facies about 2 m above present high-tide level
the positions of sea level during each deposi- implies negligible tectonic tilting, at least about
tional episode. Study of modem and ancient an axis normal to the sea-cliff exposures. Dat-
estuary deposits at Willapa Bay, Washington, ing of the deposits by amino-acid racemization
has enabled us to develop a number of criteria suggests that they record the major eustatic sea-
for discriminating between subtidal and inter- level changes over the past 200,000 years.
tidal deposits (Table l). Evidence for subtidal
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