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Kemp, Andrew C., Vane, Christopher H., Khan, Nicole S., Ellison, Joanna C., Engelhart, Simon E., Horton, Benjamin P., Nikitina, Daria, Smith, Struan R., Rodrigues, Lisa J. & Moyer, Ryan P. (2019). Testing the Utility of Geochemical Proxies to Reconstruct Holocene Coastal Environments and Relative Sea Level: A Case Study from Hungry Bay, Bermuda. Open Quaternary 5: 1-18.

Author(s) from Durham


On low-lying, tropical and sub-tropical coastlines freshwater marshes may be replaced by salt-tolerant
mangroves in response to relative sea-level rise. Pollen analysis of radiocarbon-dated sediment cores
showed that such a change occurred in Hungry Bay, Bermuda during the late Holocene. This well-established paleoenvironmental trajectory provides an opportunity to explore if geochemical proxies (bulk-sediment δ13C and Rock-Eval pyrolysis) can reconstruct known environmental changes and relative sea level.
We characterized surface sediment from depositional environments in Bermuda (freshwater wetlands,
saline mangroves, and wrack composed of Sargassum natans macroalgae) using geochemical measurements
and demonstrate that a multi-proxy approach can objectively distinguish among these environments.
However, application of these techniques to the transgressive sediment succession beneath Hungry Bay
suggests that freshwater peat and mangrove peat cannot be reliably distinguished in the sedimentary
record, possibly because of post-depositional convergence of geochemical characteristics on decadal to
multi-century timescales and/or the relatively small number of modern samples analyzed. Sediment that
includes substantial contributions from Sargassum is readily identified by geochemistry, but has a limited
spatial extent. Radiocarbon dating indicates that beginning at –700 CE, episodic marine incursions into
Hungry Bay (e.g., during storms) carried Sargassum that accumulated as wrack and thickened through
repeated depositional events until ~300 CE. It took a further ~550 years for a peat-forming mangrove
community to colonize Hungry Bay, which then accumulated sediment rapidly, but likely out of equilibrium
with regional relative sea-level rise.