Abstract

The Burdekin River of northeastern Australia has constructed a substantial delta during the Holocene (delta plain area 1260 km2). The vertical succession through this delta comprises (1) a basal, coarse-grained transgressive lag overlying a continental omission surface, overlain by (2) a mud interval deposited as the coastal region was inundated by the postglacially rising sea, in turn overlain by (3) a generally sharp-based sand unit deposited principally in channel and mouth-bar environments with lesser volumes of floodplain and coastal facies. The Holocene Burdekin Delta was constructed as a series of at least thirteen discrete delta lobes, formed as the river avulsed. Each lobe consists of a composite sand body typically 5–8 m thick. The oldest lobes, formed during the latter stages of the postglacial sea-level rise (10–5.5 kyr BP), are larger than those formed during the highstand (5.5–3 kyr BP), which are in turn larger than those formed during the most recent slight sea-level lowering and stillstand (3–0 kyr BP). Radiocarbon ages and other stratigraphic data indicate that inter-avulsion period has decreased through time coincident with the decrease in delta lobe area. The primary control on Holocene delta architecture appears to have been a change from a pluvial climate known to characterize the region 12–4 kyr BP to the present drier, ENSO-dominated climate. In addition to decreasing the sediment supply via lower rates of chemical weathering, this change may have contributed to the shorter avulsion period by facilitating extreme variability of discharge. More frequent avulsion may also have been facilitated by the lengthening of the delta-plain channels as the system prograded seaward.

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