The microtidal, wave-dominated coast of the western Gulf of Mexico displays a variety of Holocene geomorphic features indicating higher-than-present water levels that were previously attributed to storm processes while geoidal sea level was at its present position. Field and aerial-photograph examinations of bay margins, barrier islands, and beach-ridge plains following major hurricanes show that the elevated features are inundated periodically by high storm surge. Despite their inundation, these highstand features are not modified by modern storm processes. Instead, storm-related erosion and deposition are always seaward of and lower than the highstand features and are always limited to the extant shorezone, where elevations typically are less than 1.5 m above present sea level.
Bay-margin and lagoonal highstand indicators include raised marshes and subtidal flats, wave-cut benches, abandoned wave-cut scarps with fringing marshes and/or beach ridges, and accretionary islands and recurved spits. Other emergent marine features include abandoned compound flood-tidal delta and washover fan complexes attached to barrier islands and anomalously high beach ridges within both the barrier-island complexes and beach-ridge plains. The highest beach ridges, raised marshes and flats, and erosional scarps and benches are manifestations of one or more rising phases and highstands in sea level, whereas the lower marshes and accretionary topography are mainly products of the falling phases and shoreface adjustment to present sea level.
Different elevations of beach-ridge sets, discordant truncation of beach ridges, and elevated marine- and brackish-water faunal assemblages preserved in beach ridges, raised marshes and flats, and natural levees are compelling evidence of sea-level fluctuations of ±1 to 1.5 m from about 5500 to 1200 cal yr BP. Independent evidence from studies of geodynamic, climatic, and glacio-eustatic processes can explain the mid-Holocene highstands and late Holocene lowering of sea level that is observed in tectonically stable coastal regions far from former centers of glaciation.