Abstract

Bathymetric surveys conducted before and after the 2005 hurricane season at Little Pass Timbalier in the Mississippi River delta plain, United States, demonstrate that 9.1 (±2.4) × 106 m3 of sediment was eroded from a 47.9 km2 area. Between the two surveys, Hurricanes Cindy, Katrina, and Rita passed within 300 km of the tidal inlet. Comparison of before and after bathymetric data sets shows that the distal portion of the ebb-tidal delta (ETD) was the site of 63% of the total erosion, locally resulting in 400 m of shoreface retreat. Shoaling (0.75–1.0 m) in the seawardmost portion of the ebb channel and erosion in the landward portion (~1.5 m) resulted in a 160 m landward shift of the inlet throat. Collectively, these processes forced the landward migration of the entire tidal inlet and ETD system. There has been considerable discussion about large volumes of mineral sediment deposited on the Mississippi River delta plain interior marsh surface as a result of hurricanes; however, the origin of this sediment is unknown. We identify the distal portion of an ETD as one possible sediment source and hypothesize that ETD and shoreface sediment is mobilized by hurricane waves and transported landward by surge-induced currents. Our results emphasize the role of frequent and intense hurricanes in long-term coastal evolution and as a mechanism for regional sediment retention within the transgressive system beyond typical barrier overwash processes.

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