Sea-Floor Environments Within Long Island Sound: A Regional Overview

Harley J. Knebel, Lawrence J. Poppe


Modern sea-floor sedimentary environments within the glaciated, topographically complex Long Island Sound estuary have been interpreted and mapped from an extensive collection of sidescan sonographs, bottom samples, and video camera observations together with supplemental bathymetric, marine-geologic, and bottom-current data. Four categories of environments are present that reflect the dominant long-term processes of: erosion or nondeposition; coarse-grained bedload transport; sediment sorting and reworking; and fine-grained deposition. (1) Environments of erosion or nondeposition contain exposures of glacial drift, coarse lag deposits, and possibly bedrock and include sediments which range from boulder fields to gravelly coarse-to-medium sands. (2) Environments of coarse-grained bedload transport are mantled by sand ribbons and sand waves and contain mostly coarse-to-fine sands with only small amounts of mud. (3) Environments of sediment sorting and reworking comprise both uniform and heterogeneous sediment types and contain variable amounts of fine sand and mud. (4) Environments of fine-grained deposition are blanketed by muds and sandy muds.

The patchy distribution of sedimentary environments within Long Island Sound reflects both regional and local changes in bottom processes. Regional changes are primarily the result of a strong, east-to-west decreasing gradient of bottom tidal-current speeds, coupled with the net (westward) estuarine bottom drift. The regional current regime has produced a westward succession of environments along the basin floor beginning with erosion or nondeposition at the narrow eastern entrance to the Sound, changing to an extensive area of coarse-grained bedload transport, passing into a contiguous band of sediment sorting, and ending with broad areas of fine-grained deposition in the central and western Sound. However, local changes in processes are superimposed on the regional conditions within the central and western parts of the basin and along the nearshore margins. Within the central and western basin, localized sedimentary environments are produced where the bottom flow is enhanced by, and interacts with, the bottom topography, whereas along the nearshore margins, they variously reflect wave-produced currents, the irregular bathymetry, the indented shoreline, and the proximal supply of sediments.

Results from this study (1) confirm the high trapping efficiency of fine-grained sediments in the Sound, (2) suggest that fine-grained sediments accumulate at an average (regional) rate of 0.08 g/cm2/y, and (3) indicate that the postglacial delta in the eastern Sound was a significant source of fine-grained sediments now buried beneath depositional areas.


Long Island Sound; estuaries; sedimentary processes; sedimentary environments; side-scanning methods.

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