Overview -- We have interpreted the geomorphology of the submerged landforms to show thick Holocene sediment that accumulated from three different sources during on-going sea level rise that began 10,000 - 12,000 years ago at the end of Pleistocene. We used a variety of subsurface data from the literature and unpublished information to document thicknesses, materials, dates and duration of processes. Although the details of the true extent and thicknesses are unknown, the deposits of different sources have affinity for particular geographic and submerged geomorphic regions of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries.
During the last Pleistocene glacial event (Wisconsian), the area now occupied by the Chesapeake Bay was exposed, sea level being about 100 m lower than present. The Susquehanna River valley extended beyond the Bay well out on the exposed Atlantic Shelf. The Susquehanna transported glacial outwash from northern Pennsylvania and New York; the glacio-fluvial deposits were graded to the edge of the continental shelf (Colman et al., 1990; Hack, 1957). Other Piedmont and Appalachian Rivers including the Potomac and James Rivers transported large volumes of sediment to confluence with the Susquehanna channel. Locally, across the encompasing coastal plain landscape, intensive headward erosion, gullies, and slope failure, generated extensive debris flows, sheet wash, and terraces of braided alluvial channel deposits. Large volumes of sediment were moved through the river system to the continental shelf. This was accomplished by a cold, wet climate that included much freezing and thawing; steep eroding slopes resulted from the lowering of sea level from the previous high stand (Stage 5e) between glacial events. Across the Delmarva peninsula extensive wind-blown deposits of sand and loess were recycled onto low terraces and uplands from the unvegetated glacio-fluvial sediments moving through the system (Denny et al., 1979). The volume and distribution of sediment eroded and transported from the watershed surrounding the area of the Bay was several orders of magnitude greater than generally observed in transport and storage on the present day landscape.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Distribution of Holocene Sediment in Chesapeake Bay as Interpreted from Submarine Geomorphology of the Submerged Landforms, Selected Core Holes, Bridge Borings and Seismic Profiles