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U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2004-1350

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October 2004

Pocomoke Sound Sedimentary and Ecosystem History

Edited by Thomas M. Cronin

Summary of Results: Pocomoke Sound Sediment and Sediment Processes

Transport of sediment from coastal marshes . Analyses of pollen and foraminifera from surface sediments in Pocomoke Sound suggest that neither the upstream forested wetlands nor coastal marshes bordering the sound have contributed appreciably to particulate matter in the 10- to 1000-micron size range that is currently being deposited in the sound.

Sediment processes derived from short-lived isotope . Analyses of beryllium-7, cesium-137 and lead-210 and redox sensitive elements from Pocomoke sediments showed that there has been a significant increase in anthropogenic elements since the late 1940's when the Delmarva Peninsula became more accessible from the Baltimore-Washington region. Cesium-137 was found to be a useful tool to determine changes in sedimentation within the system. Three major stages of sedimentation occurred. Before 1950, the system was equilibrium with the agriculture activity in the watershed, whereas urbanization and agricultural activity changes during and immediately preceding World War II resulted in increased sediment flux. Around 1970, the sediment flux diminished and there was an apparent increase in bank erosion sediment to the deeper parts of the system.

Rates of sediment deposition . Radiocarbon, lead-210, and pollen dating of sediment cores from Pocomoke Sound indicate relatively continuous deposition of fine-grained sediments in the main Pocomoke channel at > ~7 m water depths. Mean sediment accumulation rates during the past few centuries were relatively high (>1 cm yr -1 ). The ages of coarser-grained sediments (sands) blanketing the shallow (< ~ 7 m water depth) flanks of Pocomoke Sound are not well constrained but were probably deposited discontinuously.

Impacts of land-use on benthic biota . The Pocomoke Sound paleoecological record shows that in the 1940-50s and again in the 1970-80s, the sound experienced unprecedented changes in the benthic assemblages of both ostracodes and foraminifera that can be attributed to degradation in water quality. These changes represent perturbations to the natural variability in faunal assemblages, which are normally driven by climatically influenced changes in salinity regimes. Changes in 20th century benthic communities were characterized by the rise to dominance of facultative anaerobic taxa tolerant of hypoxia and detrital-feeding species, reflecting increased influx of organic matter, and perhaps greater turbidity. Results support the hypothesis of Orth et al. (2002) and Orth and Moore (1983) that unprecedented changes to the bay ecosystem affected submerged aquatic vegetation in the Tangiers-Pocomoke region prior to large-scale monitoring began in the 1970s and 80s. Comparison of Pocomoke paleoecological record with those from the mainstem bay indicate that environmental degradation during the 20th century was nearly synchronous bay-wide within the limits of sediment core chronology (10-20 years).

Stable isotopic evidence for decadal water quality changes . Stable isotopic records from benthic foraminifera in Pocomoke Sound sediment cores, especially oxygen isotopes, document regional decadal and centennial climate processes which influence salinity and water quality over the past few centuries. These results provide indirect evidence for discharge-driven changes in freshwater and presumably river-borne sediment from the watershed to the sound. They are consistent with studies in the mainstem indicating the important influence of climatic and hydrological processes on water quality.

Pollen evidence for high sedimentation and vegetation change during colonial land clearance . Pollen assemblages from sediment cores in Pocomoke Sound document high sedimentation rates (0.7->4.0 cm yr -1 ) at most sites throughout the Sound in post-Colonial time. These results confirm those from other regions of the bay that land-clearance increased the flux of river-borne sediment to certain regions of the bay. Records from one nearshore site indicate that cypress logging in the early 20th century completely changed forest composition and may have increased shoreline/wetland erosion rates to the sound. Reforestation, beginning in the 1940's, is documented consistently by doubling of sweetgum pollen, which provides a new biostratigraphic marker in Chesapeake Bay sediments.


Table of contents

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7


Open-File Report 04-1350 is available as Adobe Acrobat PDF document (8 MB).
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This report has not been reviewed for conformity to U.S. Geological Survey editorial standards and stratigraphic nomenclature. Any use of trade, product, or firm names in this publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Contact Information

For questions about the content of this report please contact Thomas Cronin.

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