The latest Holocene sedimentary record of a cohesive channel and subtidal shoal in the lower Hudson River Estuary was examined to elucidate natural (sea-level rise, sediment transport) and anthropogenic (bulkheading, dredging) influences on the recent morphodynamic evolution of the system. To characterize the seafloor and shallow subbottom, ??? 100 km of high-resolution seismic reflection profiles (chirp) were collected within a 20-km reach of the estuary and correlated with sediment lithologies provided by eight vibracores recovered along seismic lines. Sediment geochronology with 137Cs and 14C was used to estimate intermediate and long-term sedimentation rates, respectively, and historical bathymetric data were analyzed to identify regional patterns of accretion and erosion, and to quantify changes in channel geometry and sediment volume. The shoal lithosome originated around 4 ka presumably with decelerating eustatic sea level rise during the latest Holocene. Long-term sedimentation rates on the shoal (2.3-2.6 mm/yr) are higher than in the channel (2 mm/yr) owing to hydrodynamic conditions that preferentially sequester suspended sediment on the western side of the estuary. As a result, the shoal accretes oblique to the principal axis of tidal transport, and more rapidly than the channel to produce an asymmetric cross-section. Shoal deposits consist of tidally bedded muds and are stratified by minor erosion surfaces that seismic profiles reveal to extend for 10s of meters to kilometers. The frequency and continuity of these surfaces suggest that the surficial shoal is catastrophically stripped on decadal-centennial time scales by elevated tidal flows; tidal erosion maintains the shoal at a uniform depth below sea level and prevents it from transitioning to an intertidal environment. Consequently, the long-term sedimentation rate approximates the rate of sea-level rise in the lower estuary (1-3 mm/yr). After the mid 1800s, the natural geometry of the lower Hudson River Estuary changed rapidly in response to engineering works that forced the channel to self-deepen. Analysis of historical bathymetric data indicates that the channel lost an estimated 3 ?? 106 tons of sediment between ca. 1939 and 2002 (50,000 tons/yr average) by subaqueous erosion, increasing in depth by as much as 4 m in places. Erosion appears to have been concurrent with systematic bulkheading of the shoreline after ca. 1865, which decreased the estuary surface area by ??? 19% overall. Evidently, self-deepening of the channel is a morphodynamic adjustment to reestablish equilibrium cross-sectional area, yet the state of this change locally and elsewhere in the estuary is unknown. Subaqueous erosion documented in this study is a significant source of sediment with implications to the sediment budget and environmental quality of the Hudson River Estuary. ?? 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Latest Holocene evolution and human disturbance of a channel segment in the Hudson River Estuary