Recent and modern marine erosion on the New Jersey outer shelf

John A. Goff, James A. Austin, Sean Gulick, Sylvia Nordfjord, Beth Christensen, Christopher Sommerfield, Hilary Olson, Clark Alexander

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67 Scopus citations


Recent chirp seismic reflection data combined with multibeam bathymetry, backscatter, and analysis of grab samples and short cores provide evidence of significant recent erosion on the outer New Jersey shelf. The timing of erosion is constrained by two factors: (1) truncation at the seafloor of what is interpreted to be the transgressive ravinement surface at the base of the surficial sand sheet, and (2) truncation of apparently moribund sand ridges along erosional swales oriented parallel to the primary direction of modern bottom flow and oblique to the strike of the sand ridges. These observations place the erosion in a marine setting, post-dating the passage of the shoreface ravinement and the evolution of sand ridges that form initially in the near shore environment. Also truncated by marine erosion are shallowly buried, fluvial channel systems, formed during the Last Glacial Maximum and filled during the transgression, and a regional reflector "R" that is > ∼ 40 kyr. Depths of erosion range from a few meters to > 10 m. The seafloor within eroded areas is often marked by "ribbon" morphology, seen primarily in the backscatter data as areas of alternating high and low backscatter elongated in the direction of primary bottom flow. Ribbons are more occasionally observed in the bathymetry; where observed, crests exhibit low backscatter and troughs exhibit high backscatter. Sampling reveals that the high backscatter areas of the ribbons consist of a trimodal admixture of mud, sand and shell hash, with a bimodal distribution of abraded and unabraded sand grains and microfauna. The shell hash is interpreted to be an erosional lag, while the muds and unabraded grains are, in this non-depositional environment, evidence of recent erosion at the seafloor of previously undisturbed strata. The lower-backscatter areas of the ribbon morphology were found to be a well-sorted medium sand unit only a few 10's of cm thick overlying the shelly/muddy/sandy material. Concentrations of well-rounded gravels and cobbles were also found in eroded areas with very high backscatter, and at least one of these appears to be derived from the base of an eroded fluvial channel. Seafloor reworking over the transgressive evolution of the shelf appears to have switched from sand ridge evolution, which is documented to ∼ 40 m water depth, to more strictly erosional modification at greater water depths. We suggest that this change may be related to the reduction with water depth in the effectiveness of sediment resuspension by waves. Resuspension is a critical factor in the grain size sorting during transport by bottom currents over large bedforms like sand ridges. Otherwise, we speculate, displacement of sand by unidirectional currents will erode the seafloor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-296
Number of pages22
JournalMarine Geology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 15 2005
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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