Efficient retention of mud drives land building on the Mississippi Delta plain
- 1Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Tulane University, 6823 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana 70118-5698, USA
- 2Department of Marine Science, Coastal Carolina University, P.O. Box 261954, Conway, South Carolina 29528, USA
- anow at: The Water Institute of the Gulf, One American Place, 301 N. Main Street, Suite 2000, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70825, USA
- *These authors contributed equally to this work.
Abstract. Many of the world's deltas – home to major population centers – are rapidly degrading due to reduced sediment supply, making these systems less resilient to increasing rates of relative sea-level rise. The Mississippi Delta faces some of the highest rates of wetland loss in the world. As a result, multibillion dollar plans for coastal restoration by means of river diversions are currently nearing implementation. River diversions aim to bring sediment back to the presently sediment-starved delta plain. Within this context, sediment retention efficiency (SRE) is a critical parameter because it dictates the effectiveness of river diversions. Several recent studies have focused on land building along the open coast, showing SREs ranging from 5 to 30 %. Here we measure the SRE of a large relict crevasse splay in an inland, vegetated setting that serves as an appropriate model for river diversions. By comparing the mass fraction of sand in the splay deposit to the estimated sand fraction that entered it during its life cycle, we find that this mud-dominated sediment body has an SRE of ≥ 75 %, i.e., dramatically higher than its counterparts on the open coast. Our results show that transport pathways for mud are critical for delta evolution and that SRE is highly variable across a delta. We conclude that sediment diversions located in settings that are currently still vegetated are likely to be the most effective in mitigating land loss and providing long-term sustainability.