Application of intertidal salt-marsh foraminifera to reconstruct late Holocene sea-level change at Kariega Estuary, South Africa.
Unclear predictions surrounding climate change, associated sea-level rise and potential impacts upon coastal environments have placed an emphasis on the importance of sea-level change. Past sea-level fluctuations have been measured using biological and geomorphological forms of evidence. One such biological proxy is salt-marsh foraminifera, which have been used as a high-resolution indicator of past sea-level change, based on the assumption that surface foraminiferal assemblages are similar in composition to buried fossil foraminifera. In South Africa, there is ongoing research seeking to produce high-resolution records of sealevel change, however foraminifera remain an underutilized source of proxy evidence. This research applies salt-marsh foraminifera as precise indicators of relative sea-level change at Kariega Estuary on the Eastern Cape coastline of South Africa. Distributions of modern foraminiferal assemblages were investigated, revealing vertical zonation across the intertidal zone. The foraminiferal and marsh vegetation zones were in part similar and overlapped to a certain extent, identifying three zones; high, low and tidal flats. This suggested foraminiferal distribution is a direct function of elevation relative to tidal fluctuation. A 94 cm core consisting of peat, sand and clay sediments was extracted from the salt marsh. A chronological framework for the core was based on five AMS radiocarbon age determinations of both bulk sediment and shell fragment samples placing the record within the last 1500 years Before Present (BP). The basal shell age was a clear outlier to all bulk sediment ages, possibly as a result of shell recrystallisation. The bulk sediment age determinations suggested two possible age reversals, potentially linked to sedimentary hiatus or contamination. These inconsistencies in the chronology were best viewed as separate age models. The core was analysed at a high resolution, whereby fossil foraminifera were extracted every 2 cm’s down the core. A transfer function was applied to calculate the former elevation at which each core sample once existed, to produce a relative sea-level reconstruction. The reconstruction was related to the age models to produce two possible sea-level curve scenarios. Reconstructed curves from both scenarios depict a 0.5 m (±0.16 m) sealevel highstand at 1500 cal years BP followed by a lowstand of -0.6 m (±0.03 m). Scenario One reached its lowest recorded sea-level between 600 cal years BP and 500 cal years BP and then fluctuated below present day levels. Scenario Two reached its lowest recorded sea-level around 1200 cal years BP, followed by low amplitude fluctuations and a relatively stable period from 100 cal years BP till the present day. The 1500 cal years BP highstand recorded for both scenarios correlates well with existing palaeoenvironmental literature from the southern African coastline. Chronological limitations associated with the remainder of the record hinder inter-comparison with previous studies. The outcomes of this research suggest that intertidal saltmarsh foraminifera demonstrate enormous potential for the high-resolution reconstruction of relative sealevel change in the South African context.