Master of Science (MS)


Geology and Geophysics

Document Type



Mass wasting events are an important geomorphic control on the Mississippi River Delta Front. Short multicores (<50cm) and longer gravity cores (<3m) were collected seaward of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River Delta and were analyzed to assess the frequency, extent, and potential causes of submarine mass wasting events. Cores were analyzed for radionuclide activity, grain size, and density at 2cm resolution. Short-term sedimentation rates calculated from 7-Be are 2-16cm/y, while longer-term accumulation from 210-Pb are only 1.3-7.3 cm/y. In most cores, 210-Pb activity steadily decreases downcore without displaying a “stairstep” nature. However, seven cores have layers of low 210-Pb activity stratigraphically above layers with higher activity. In a gravity core from a mudflow gully, 210-Pb steadily decreases for the upper 70 cm before stabilizing for the remaining 150 cm. Clay content generally ranges between 25-40% and sand ranges between 5-15% with silt making up the rest of each sample. Sediment accumulation rates derived from 210-Pb in the short cores indicate that proximity to the river mouth has stronger influence than depositional environment (mudflow gully, depositional lobe, prodelta). This finding may be explained by rapid sedimentation rates coupled with a reduced tropical cyclone activity over the delta in the last seven years (2006-2013) which is a known cause of mass wasting events. The regions of decreased 210-Pb activity may be evidence of scavenging effects of plume sedimentation because they do not correspond with decreases in clay fraction. The layer of homogenized activity below 70cm in the gully core corresponds with a layer of decreased density. This layer occurs at a depth equivalent to 9-18 years, indicating mixing on a decadal scale from mudflows. These results may be explained by a lack of recent mass failures corresponding with lulls in tropical cyclone activity over the delta, preceded by a period of more active hurricane-driven mudflow activity.



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Committee Chair

Bentley, Samuel J Sr