Although carbonate ramps are ubiquitous in the geologic record, the impacts of oceanographic processes on their facies patterns are less well constrained than with other carbonate geomorphic forms such as isolated carbonate platforms. To better understand the role of physical and chemical oceanographic forces on geomorphic and sedimentologic variability of ramps, this study examines in-situ field measurements, remote-sensing data, and hydrodynamic modeling of the nearshore inner ramp of the modern northeastern Yucatán Shelf, Mexico.
The results reveal how sediment production and accumulation are influenced by the complex interactions of the physical, chemical, and biological processes on the ramp. Upwelled, cool, nutrient-rich waters are transported westward across the ramp and concentrated along the shoreline by cold fronts (Nortes), westerly regional currents, and longshore currents. This influx supports a mix of both heterozoan and photozoan fauna and flora in the nearshore realm. Geomorphically, the nearshore parts of this ramp system in the study area include lagoon, barrier island, and shoreface environments, influenced by the mixed-energy (wave and tidal) setting. Persistent trade winds, episodic tropical depressions, and winter storms generate waves that propagate onto the shoreface. Extensive shore-parallel sand bodies (beach ridges and subaqueous dune fields) of the high-energy, wave-dominated upper shoreface and foreshore are composed of fine to coarse skeletal sand, lack mud, and include highly abraded, broken and bored grains. The large shallow lagoon is mixed-energy: wave-dominated near the inlet, it transitions to tide-dominated in the more protected central and eastern regions. Lagoon sediment consists of Halimeda-rich muddy gravel and sand. Hydrodynamic forces are especially strong where bathymetry focuses water flow, as occurs along a promontory and at the lagoon inlet, and can form subaqueous dunes.
Explicit comparison among numerical models of conceptual shorefaces in which variables are altered and isolated systematically demonstrates the influences of the winds, waves, tides, and currents on hydrodynamics across a broad spectrum of settings (e.g., increased tidal range, differing wind and wave conditions). Results quantify how sediment transport patterns are determined by wave height and direction relative to the shoreface, but tidal forces locally control geomorphic and sedimentologic character. Similarly, the physical oceanographic processes acting throughout the year (e.g., daily tides, episodic winter Nortes, and persistent easterly winds and waves) have more impact on geomorphology and sedimentology of comparable nearshore systems than intense, but infrequent, hurricanes. Overall, this study provides perspectives on how upwelling, nutrient levels, and hydrodynamics influence the varied sedimentologic and geomorphic character of the nearshore areas of this high-energy carbonate ramp system. These results also provide for more accurate and realistic conceptual models of the depositional variability for a spectrum of modern and ancient ramp systems.