Recent estuarine sedimentation rates from shallow inter-tidal environments in western Scotland: implications for future sea level trends and coastal wetland development

Phillip Teasdale, P.E.F. Collins, Callum Firth, Andrew Cundy

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During the mid-late Holocene large sections of the Scottish coastline have been characterized by falling relative sea-levels resulting from differential glacio-isostatic uplift of this region of northern Britain. The complex interplay between crustal and sea-level movements continues to influence the morphological development of the Scottish coast. A number of geophysical models predict ongoing uplift of the Scottish landmass. However, a number of recent studies based upon the analysis of satellite altimetry data indicate a late 20th Century acceleration in the rate of eustatic sea-level rise. Detailed geochemistry, radiometric dating, and diatom analysis on selected sediment cores from four mature coastal marsh environments in Argyll, western Scotland, provides an opportunity to investigate the linkages between Twentieth century crustal movements, eustatic sea-level rise and recent rates of sedimentation recorded within marsh sediments across the proposed Scottish glacio-isostatic uplift dome. Solid-phase major and trace element geochemistry has been used to examine the extent to which post-depositional physical disturbance and/or chemical reactions may have influenced the reliability of the radiometric dating methods. Geochemical data indicate that the evolution of these marsh environments has not been significantly influenced by physical disturbance and overall the supply of minerogenic material to the marshes has been quite uniform. Vertical distributions of 210Pbexcess and 137Cs activity have been measured and used to develop models of recent marsh vertical accretion. Dating of the cores reveals subtle variations in the rates of sediment accumulation over the last c. 70 years between sites. For much of the last hundred years or so, sedimentation rates have been in good overall agreement with various estimations for sea-level rise, although at the more easterly sites these estimates are generally exceeded. However, quasi-equilibrium between marsh sedimentation and sea-level rise for much of the Twentieth Century is indicated from the Diatom analysis. Over the most recent period of marsh development (<10 years), a significant increase in the rate of surface sedimentation is recorded at all sites across the study area. Diatom analysis of these surface layers reveals an increase in the relative abundance of marine (polyhalobous) taxa in the near-surface sediments. This signifies a very recent increase in the rate of regional relative sea-level rise indicating that a regional threshold in coastal forcing has now been exceeded. These findings provide clear evidence that recent relative sea-level rise is now outpacing estimated rates of glacio-isostatic adjustment (GIA) across the proposed Scottish uplift dome.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-129
Number of pages21
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011

Bibliographical note

© 2011 Elsevier


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