Seeking enlightenment of fluvial sediment pathways by optically stimulated luminescence signal bleaching of river sediments and deltaic deposits
Chamberlain, Elizabeth L.
Reconstructing sediment pathways in fluvial and deltaic systems beyond instrumental records is challenging due to a lack of suitable methods. Here we explore the potential of luminescence methods for such purposes, focusing on bleaching of the optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) signal of quartz sediments in a large fluviodeltaic system across time and space. We approach this by comparing residual doses of sand and silt from the modern Mississippi River channel with estimated residual doses of sand isolated from Late Holocene Mississippi Delta mouth bar and overbank deposits. Further insight is obtained from a comparison of burial ages of paired quartz sand and silt of Mississippi Delta overbank deposits. In contrast to some previous investigations, we find that the bleaching of the OSL signal is at least as likely for finer sediment as for coarser sediment of the meandering Mississippi River and its delta. We attribute this to the differences in light exposure related to transport mode (bedload vs. suspended load). In addition, we find an unexpected spatiotemporal pattern in OSL bleaching of mouth bar sand deposits. We suggest this may be caused by changes in upstream pathways of the meandering channel belt(s) within the alluvial valley or by distributary channel and coastal dynamics within the delta. Our study demonstrates that the degree of OSL signal bleaching of sand in a large delta can be highly time-and/or space-dependent. Silt is shown to be generally sufficiently bleached in both the modern Mississippi River and associated paleo-deposits regardless of age, and silt may therefore provide a viable option for obtaining OSL chronologies in megadeltas. Our work contributes to initiatives to use luminescence signals to fingerprint sediment pathways within river channel networks and their deltas and also helps inform luminescence dating approaches in fluviodeltaic environments.