Submerged shoreline sequences on the KwaZulu-Natal shelf : a comparison between two morphological settings.
Holocene shoreline sequences and associated shelf stratigraphy are described from a high gradient, high wave energy shelf offshore the central KwaZulu-Natal and northern KwaZulu-Natal coastlines. These are examined using high resolution single-channel seismic and multibeam bathymetric means in order to describe the shallow stratigraphy and seafloor geomorphology of each area. The development and preservation of two distinct planform shorelines at -100 m (northern KwaZulu-Natal) and -60 m (northern KwaZulu-Natal and central KwaZulu-Natal) is described. The shallow seismic stratigraphy of northern KwaZulu-Natal comprises three seismic units (Units 1-3) corresponding to calcarenite barriers (Unit 1), back barrier lagoonal sediments (Unit 2) and the contemporary highstand sediment wedge (Unit 3). At intervening depths between each shoreline the shelf is characterised by erosional surfaces that reflect ravinement processes during periods of slowly rising sea level. Where shorelines are not preserved, areas of scarping in the ravinement surface at depths coincident to adjoining shorelines are apparent. These areas represent rocky headlands that separated the sandy coastal compartments where the shorelines formed and are a function of the high gradient. In central KwaZulu-Natal where the shelf is notably wider and gentler, shoreline building was more intense. Five major seismic units are identified (Units 1-5) with several subsidiary facies. The formation of the -60 m barrier complex (Unit 2) in central KwaZulu-Natal was accompanied by the simultaneous formation of a back-barrier system comprising lake-lagoon depressions (Unit 3) and parabolic dune fields aligned to the local aeolian transport direction, formed on a widened coastal plain. On the seaward margins of the barrier, gully and shore platform features developed coevally with the barrier system. Several relict weathering features (Unit 4) are associated with the barrier and reflect similar processes observed in contemporary aeolianite/beachrock outcrops on the adjacent coastline. The two submerged shoreline sequences observed are attributed to century to millennial scale periods of stasis during which shoreline equilibrium forms developed and early diagenesis of beachrock and aeolianite occurred. These extensive phases of shoreline development are thought to have occurred during periods of stillstand or slowstand associated with the Bølling-Allerod Interstadial (~14.5 ka BP) and the Younger Dryas Cold Period (~12.7-11.6 Ka BP). Shoreline preservation in such an environment is considered unlikely as a result of intense ravinement during shoreline translation, coupled with the high energy setting of the KwaZulu-Natal shelf. Preservation of both the 100 m and 60 m shorelines occurred via overstepping where preservation was promoted by particularly rapid bouts of relative sea-level rise associated with meltwater pulses 1A and 1B (MWP-1A and -1B). This was aided by early cementation of the shoreline forms during stillstand. Differences in shelf setting have led to variations in the style of barrier preservation and associated transgressive stratigraphies between the central KwaZulu-Natal and northern KwaZulu-Natal shelves. The main differences include a much thicker post-transgressive sediment drape, higher degrees of transgressive ravinement and an overall simplified transgressive system’s tract (TST) architecture on the steeper and narrower continental shelf of northern KwaZulu-Natal. In comparison, the central KwaZulu-Natal shelf’s 60 m shoreline complex reflects more complicated equilibrium shoreline facets, large compound dune fields formed in the hinterland of the shoreline complex, higher degrees of preservation and a more complicated transgressive stratigraphy.