Depositional and sea-level history from MIS 6 (Termination II) to MIS 3 on the southern continental shelf of South Africa



Publication Details

Cawthra, H. C., Jacobs, Z., Compton, J. S., Fisher, E. C., Karkanas, P. & Marean, C. W. (2018). Depositional and sea-level history from MIS 6 (Termination II) to MIS 3 on the southern continental shelf of South Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews: the international multidisciplinary research and review journal, 181 156-172.


Pleistocene shoreline deposits comprised of calcified shallow marine (palaeobeach) and aeolian (palaeodune) facies found along mid-latitude coastlines can be useful indicators of past sea levels. Here, we describe a succession of such deposits that are presently exposed both above (subaerial) and below (submerged) mean sea level along the southern Cape coast of South Africa, 18 km east of the town of Mossel Bay. The submerged units provide a window on Late Pleistocene coastal processes, as palaeoshoreline deposits in this study extend to water depths of up to 55 m on the mid-shelf. Five sedimentary facies were identified in the strata and were compared to modern depositional environments of the local littoral zone, which include aeolian dune, upper shoreface, foreshore, intertidal swash and back-barrier settings. Twenty-two geological units were observed and mapped. Some of these units were directly dated with optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. OSL ages were obtained for ten samples from the subaerial and twelve samples from the submerged deposits. Those geological units not directly dated were interpreted based on sedimentology and field/stratigraphic relationships to dated units. The stratigraphy and chronology of the succession indicates a record of initial deposition during Termination II (T-II) meltwater events, preceding and leading to marine isotope stage (MIS) 5e. Indicators for multiple sea-level fluctuations between MIS 5d and MIS 4, and sediment deposition at the end of MIS 4 and start of MIS 3 are also found. Both regressive and transgressive depositional cycles are well-preserved in the succession. We propose that palaeodune and palaeobeach deposits along the South Coast of South Africa have no clear preference for deposition during sea-level transgressions or regressions. Sediment deposition more closely mirrors the rate of sea level change, with deposition and preservation either during times of rapid sea-level movement, or oscillation around still-stand events. Periods of relatively slow average rise or fall of sea level are represented by erosional planation surfaces in this record.

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