Abstract

The prograding Holocene mud wedge between the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers in the trade wind belt of northeastern South America provides a modern-day example of muds accumulating under moderate wave-energy conditions. Gigantic shore-attached mudbanks (10 km x 20 km), composed partly of thixotropic fluid-mud gel, front this coast every 30-60 km to form a buffer to wave attack and a temporary storage for fine-grained sediments. This mesotidal coast (tide range nearly equal 2.0 m) with gentle offshore slope (0.0006) allows the exposure twice a day of extensive tidal flat deposits, which are backed by mangrove swamps on a well-developed chenier-plain complex. Field experiments were conducted in Surinam during 1975 and 1977 to provide new information on process-form relationships in this interesting but unusual muddy environment. Simultaneous measurements of waves, currents, tide elevation, suspended-sediment concentration, and variations in mud density show that soft intertidal and subtidal muds are suspended at both tide and wave frequency. Suspended-sediment concentrations typically exceed 1,000 mg/l at the surface as incoming solitary-like waves partially disperse fluid mud into overlying water on a falling or rising tide. Redeposition of mud may occur near time of high tide. The strong attenuation of shallow-water waves by these muds provides conditions that are favorable for further sedimentation. High concentrations of suspended fluid mud, together with solitary-like waves from the northeast throughout the year, can lead to extraordinarily high net sediment transport rates in the nearshore zone. Calculations based on solitary-wave theory and on data obtained from this study indicate that 15-65 x 10 6 m 3 of mud can move along shore each year without involving breaking waves, the concept of radiation stress and a nearshore circulation cell, or bedload transport. Farther offshore, outside the zone of wave dominance, wind-driven currents and the Guiana Current combine to transport muds to the northwest, consistent with the observed direction of mudflat migration.

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