Morphology and stratigraphy of small barrier-lagoon systems in Maine

Marine Geology

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The coast of Maine contains over 200 individual barrier-lagoon systems, most quite small, with an aggregate length of nearly 100 km. Although they represent less than 5% of the tidally influenced coastline of Maine, they are widely distributed and occur in a variety of dynamic regimes and physiographic regions. Their morphology and backbarrier stratigraphy are different from better studied coastal plain systems, and provide important clues to the Holocene evolution of the Maine coast. In a study of geomorphic form and backbarrier stratigraphy, inlet processes and Holocene sea-level rise have been identified as the principal controls on coarse-grained barrier stratigraphy. Barriers in Maine are found in five distinct geomorphic forms, identified herein as: barrier spits, pocket barriers, double tombolos, cuspate barriers and looped barriers. The few long sandy beaches in southwestern Maine are mostly barrier spits. The remainder of the barrier types is composed primarily of gravel or mixed sand and gravel. The barriers protect a variety of backbarrier environments: fresh and brackish ponds, lagoons and fresh- and saltwater marshes. The barriers may or may not have inlets. Normal wave action, coarse-grain size and a deeply embayed coast result in barriers with steep, reflective profiles several meters above MHW. Occasional storm events completely wash over the barriers, building steep, lobate gravel fans along their landward margin. Few, if any, extensive storm layers are recognized as extending into the distal backbarrier environments, however. During sea-level rise and landward barrier retreat, this abrupt, storm-generated transition zone inters the backbarrier sediments. Statistical comparisons of barrier morphology, location and backbarrier environment type with backbarrier stratigraphy show that Holocene backbarrier stratigraphy is best predicted by the modern backbarrier environment type. This, in turn, is influenced most by the absence or presence, and long-term stability or instability of a tidal inlet. Geomorphic barrier form and location in coastal geomorphic compartments show little or no correlation with backbarrier stratigraphy. In contrast to previous classifications of barrier-lagoon systems based primarily on sandy, coastal plain examples, in Maine the shape or origin of the backbarrier system is relatively unimportant. The presence or absence of a tidal inlet is of paramount importance in shaping the Holocene stratigraphy of the backbarrier region. ?? 1989.

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Morphology and stratigraphy of small barrier-lagoon systems in Maine
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Marine Geology
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Marine Geology
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