Aminostratigraphy and thermoluminescence dating of coastal aeolianites and the later Quaternary history of a failed delta: The River Murray mouth region, South Australia



Publication Details

Belperio, A. P., Williams, F., Price, D. M., Bourman, R. P., Prescott, J. R. and Murray-Wallace, C. V. (2010). Aminostratigraphy and thermoluminescence dating of coastal aeolianites and the later Quaternary history of a failed delta: The River Murray mouth region, South Australia. Quaternary Geochronology, 5 (1), 28-49.


A geochronological framework for the sequential development of coastal barrier aeolianite complexes in the mouth region of the River Murray, Australia's largest river system is presented based on amino acid racemization and thermoluminescence dating. The sedimentary successions represent a foreshortened and condensed sequence of coastal barriers compared with those of the Coorong Coastal Plain in southern South Australia where the barrier complexes are more widely separated in response to tectonic uplift. The barriers have formed during interglacial sea-level highstands and are correlatives of genetically equivalent landforms of the Coorong Coastal Plain. Thermoluminescence dating and the extent of amino acid racemization in aeolianite ‘whole-rock’ sediment samples, reveal a general increase in age of the barriers landwards from the modern coastline. In detail, however, the individual barriers represent composite structures having formed in more than one interglaciation, due to the reoccupation of Pleistocene shoreline positions during sea-level highstands of similar amplitude, in a zone of gradual basin subsidence. The most seaward Pleistocene aeolianite at Surfer Beach is of interstadial age (Marine Isotope Stage 5c, 105 ± 5 ka; MIS 5c), and correlates with the Robe Range of the Coorong Coastal Plain. The last interglacial shoreline (130 ± 15 ka; MIS 5e) is particularly well-defined in the River Murray mouth region. It is represented by a complex association of coastal parabolic dunes superimposed on a transverse dune system, which runs parallel with the former coastline, and also includes associated estuarine, lagoonal and open ocean beach facies. Landward of the last interglacial succession are distinct barriers relating to the penultimate interglaciation (215 ± 35 ka; MIS 7), as well as earlier interglaciations (350 ± 65 ka; MIS 9 or 11 and 470 ± 70 ka; MIS 11 or 13). The coastal barriers have been successively breached by the ancestral River Murray at times of lower sea level during glacial cycles. Former mouths of the River Murray during interglacial sea-level highstands are likely to have existed near Tauwitchere Island during MIS 7, and between Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island and near the southern-most part of Lake Albert during the last interglacial (MIS 5e). The River Murray mouth region represents a failed delta as the limited sediment brought to this area since late middle Pleistocene time has been either rapidly incorporated within aeolian deposits during sea-level highstands, or transported to the edge of the Lacepede Shelf during glacial maxima. The Holocene and modern River Murray has not established a marine delta, but deposits its load in the settling basins of the terminal lakes. Only a small digitate delta has formed where the river enters Lake Alexandrina.

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