Two Deltas, Two Basins, One River, One Sea: The Modern Volga Delta as an Analogue of the Neogene Productive Series, South Caspian Basin
S.B. Kroonenberg, N.I. Alekseevski, E. Aliyeva, M.B. Allen, D.N. Aybulatov, A. Baba-Zadeh, E.N. Badyukova, C.E. Davies, D.J. Hinds, R.M. Hoogendoorn, D. Huseynov, B. Ibrahimov, P. Mamedov, I. Overeem, G.V. Rusakov, S. Suleymanova, A.A. Svitoch, S.J. Vincent, 2005. "Two Deltas, Two Basins, One River, One Sea: The Modern Volga Delta as an Analogue of the Neogene Productive Series, South Caspian Basin", River Deltas–Concepts, Models, and Examples, Liviu Giosan, Janok P. Bhattacharya
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The Neogene Productive Series, the main reservoir unit of the prolific hydrocarbon province in the South Caspian Basin, and the modern Volga delta in the northern Caspian Sea, are deltas deposited by the same river into the same closed sea. Both deltas are low- gradient, mud-dominated, river-dominated, multichannel, ramp deltas without a shelf break, and show the impact of rapid changes in sea level, climate-driven discharge, and sediment input. But there are also prominent differences.
The Productive Series forms the lowstand wedge of the most dramatic sea-level fall the Caspian has ever experienced. It consists of a succession, up to 7 km thick, of fluviodeltaic sediments, deposited at extremely high sedimentation rates (2-4 mm/y) by a paleo-Volga River in the narrow, rapidly subsiding South Caspian basin. Simultaneously, the paleo-Volga carved a canyon 2000 km long and up to 600 m deep far upstream into the Russian plain. The smaller Kura and Amu Darya rivers also contributed to the Productive Series.
The sedimentary succession in the proximal part of the Productive Series shows the transition from an alternation of sheetflood sandstones and floodplain mudstones with great lateral continuity to finer-grained packages in which coarsening-upwards facies successions are common and there is evidence of repeated emergence and desiccation. A coarser-grained interval reflects increasing uplift in the adjacent Greater Caucasus mountains. The upsection increase in mud-dominated deposition in the Productive Series is thought to reflect a trend towards more humid climates.
The modern Volga delta is not more than 20 m thick and has been deposited during the last 6000 years on a wide stable continental platform at a level halfway between a major Last Glacial highstand and a deep Early Holocene lowstand. It shows rapid lateral and vertical facies changes at the delta front, and it is characterized by many small radial sand bodies with low connectivity, coarsening-upwards mouthbar and levee deposits overlying clayey prodelta deposits, and fining-upwards channel fills. There is evidence of frequent emergence and submergence due to rapid sea-level changes. Average sedimentation rates are lower than in the Productive Series (0.7-1 mm/y in uncompacted muds).
The reasons for the differences are threefold. Sedimentation in the Productive Series spanned two million years, but in the modern Volga delta less than 6,000 years, so the latter cannot be more than a partial analogue of the former. The outcropping sediments of the Productive Series were deposited in a more proximal position than the studied sediments of the modern Volga delta front, which may partly explain the difference in lateral continuity of the sandy successions. But above all the paleo-Volga shed its load in a narrow, rapidly subsiding basin, whereas the present Volga spreads its sediment across a wide and shallow stable continental platform. The differences in basin geometry and dynamics explain part of the differences in 3-D architecture and sedimentation rates.
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Deltas are amongst the most environmentally and economically important coastal sedimentary environments. Studies of deltas lag behind research in both fluvial and deep-water depositional systems, as well as more geomorphologically oriented land studies. This knowledge lag reflects both a reorientation of the petroleum industry in the last two decades toward deep-water systems, as well as the difficulty of working across the shoreline with the traditional tools used for oceanographic or land-based work. However, deltaic studies are experiencing a renewed focus, because of their global importance in environmental and other societal concerns. This volume stems from a special session: Deltas: Old and New, held at the Annual Geological Society of America conference in October 2002, that was convened to highlight these new directions in deltaic research.