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The Amazon-influenced muddy coast of South America: A review of mud-bank-shoreline interactions

Abstract : The 1500 km-long coast of South America between the Amazon and the Orinoco river mouths is the world's muddiest. This is due to the huge suspended-sediment discharge of the Amazon River (106 × 754 tons yr− 1 ± 9%), part of which is transported alongshore as mud banks. Mud-bank formation is controlled by the physical oceanography of the continental shelf seaward of the Amazon River mouth, an initial seafloor storage area for much of the suspended sediment discharged from the river. In this area, rapid and sustained fluid-mud concentration and trapping are associated with fresh water-salt water interaction and estuarine front activity on the shelf due to the enormous Amazon water discharge (ca. 173,000 m3 s− 1 at Obidos, 900 km upstream of the mouth). Fluid mud is transported shoreward and then along the coasts of the Guianas by a complex interaction of wave and tidal forcing, and wind-generated coastal currents. The mud banks, which may number up to 15 or more at any time, are up to 5 m-thick, 10 to 60 km-long, and 20 to 30 km-wide, and each may contain the equivalent mass of the annual mud supply of the Amazon. As the banks migrate alongshore, their interaction with waves results in complex and markedly fluctuating shorelines that are associated with space- and time-varying depositional 'bank' phases and erosional 'inter-bank' phases. Bank zones are protected from wave attack as a result of wave-energy dampening by mud, and undergo significant, albeit temporary, coastal accretion accompanied by rapid mangrove colonization. The dampening of waves in bank areas as they propagate onshore is accompanied by the shoreward recycling of mud, commonly in the form of individual mud bars. These bars progressively undergo desiccation and consolidation, and thus constitute a major pathway for rapid and massive colonization by mangroves. Erosion by waves propagating across relatively mud-deficient shoreface zones in inter-bank areas can lead to muddy shoreline retreat rates of tens of metres to several kilometres over a few months to a few years, accompanied by massive removal of mangroves. Notwithstanding the higher incident wave energy on inter-bank shores, inter-bank shorefaces are permanently muddy due to the pervasive influence of the Amazon muddy discharge. Inter-bank and transitional bank-to-inter-bank phases are associated with both periodic sandy chenier formation and extreme forms of rotation of rare headland-bound sandy beaches. The high mud supply from the Amazon has been the overarching geological control on the Quaternary evolution of the northeastern South American coast, having led to the growth of a muddy shelf clinoform at the mouth of the Amazon and more or less important progradation throughout this coast. Net progradation reflects an imbalance in favour of deposition during each mud-bank-inter-bank cycle. The high mud supply has presumably blanketed shelf sand deposited by smaller rivers during eustatic lowstand phases. The shelf clinoform structure at the mouth of the Amazon and the muddy coastal progradation throughout the coast of the Guianas and into Venezuela provide analogues of the geological record on muddy shorefaces.
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Submitted on : Friday, February 4, 2011 - 12:07:31 AM
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Edward J. Anthony, Antoine Gardel, Nicolas Gratiot, Christophe Proisy, Mead A. Allison, et al.. The Amazon-influenced muddy coast of South America: A review of mud-bank-shoreline interactions. Earth-Science Reviews, Elsevier, 2010, 103 (3-4), pp.99-121. ⟨10.1016/j.earscirev.2010.09.008⟩. ⟨insu-00562710⟩



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