Does Load‐Induced Shallow Subsidence Inhibit Delta Growth?

E.L. Chamberlain*, Z. Shen, W. Kim*, S. Mckinley, S. Anderson, T.E. Törnqvist

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The ability of deltas to persist by building new land is critical to maintaining these vital ecologic environments that are often home to major economic and population centers. However, the deposition of land-building sediment triggers load-induced shallow subsidence which may undermine the effectiveness of natural and engineered emergent landforms. Here, we present a new method to
quantify shallow subsidence in a 6,000–8,000 km2 relict bayhead delta of the Mississippi Delta using the mouth bar to overbank stratigraphic boundary that formed near sea level, temporally constrained by optically stimulated luminescence dating. Vertical displacement rates at this boundary, averaged over
750–1,500 years, are on the order of a few mm/yr. Total subsidence scales to ∼50% of the thickness of overlying deposits, significantly greater than the 28%–35% loss estimated for inland localities underlain by peat, indicating that bay muds in the study area are more compaction-prone than terrestrial organicrich deposits. Modeling shows a modest reduction of ∼13% in deltaic land-area gain under a realistic compaction scenario for 1,000 years of simulated delta progradation, compared to a no-compaction scenario. Our findings indicate that load-driven compaction does not majorly hinder land-area gain and may in fact promote long-term growth at engineered sediment diversions through channel maintenance driven by compaction, thereby adding further support to this restoration strategy.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021JF006153
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Holocene
  • Mississippi Delta
  • modeling
  • optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating
  • stratigraphy
  • subsidence


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