Small-scale stratigraphy in a large ramp delta: recent and Holocene sedimentation in de the Volga delta, Caspian Sea

I. Overeem, S.B. Kroonenberg, A. Veldkamp, K. Groenesteijn, G.V. Rusakov, A.A. Svitoch

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59 Citations (Scopus)


The Volga delta differs from all other major deltas in the world by its extremely gentle onshore and offshore gradient (similar to 5 cm/km) and by being affected by the rapid sea-level changes of the Caspian Sea, at rates up to a hundred times the global sea-level rise. This paper reports (1) the morphological and facies development of part of the lower delta during the last full sea-level cycle between 1929 and 1995, as monitored using remote sensing and field mapping, and (2) the Holocene development of the delta from outcrop data and augered transects. During a sea-level fall of 3 m between 1929 and 1977, rapid progradation of levees, composed of fine sand, took place along over 800 distributary channels along the delta front. Smaller distributaries became filled with clay and organics. During the 3-m sea-level rise from 1977 to 1995, aggradation occurred, leading to deposition of silt and clay on the levees and minor filling of the flood basins. Sedimentation rates as established with Cs-137 dating are up to 2-5 cm/year. Total thickness of Holocene deposits in the lower delta plain is 4-10 m. A coarsening-upwards sequence in the Damchik sandpit shows freshening-upwards mollusc assemblages dated around 1000 BP, and has been attributed to the Derbent regression at that time. Four transects with a total of 79 augerings down to 7 m depth show rapid lateral facies changes of: (a) lagoonal clays deposited in the palaeo relief between the dunes, (b) channel sands, (c) levee sands and silts, (d) laminated overbank and interdistributary bay deposits, (e) mouthbar deposits and (f) prodelta clays. Holocene depositional patterns are unrelated to the present drainage network, though the spatial variability is similar to that of the present highly segmented network. Seven C-14 datings give a range of 6000-800 BP, and several phases of progradation seem to be present, but the lateral variability is too large and the age data too limited to make a solid correlation with known Holocene sea-level fluctuations. The Volga delta differs essentially from the classic river-dominated Mississippi delta because the offshore gradient is so gentle that no marine reworking takes place at the outlets, and the friction-controlled bifurcation continues basinward until a very fine maze of distributary outlets is produced. The Volga Holocene sequences more resemble those of the Atchafalaya and Saskatchewan lacustrine deltas. However, they differ from them in not being subsystems of a larger delta but the main depositional facies of the delta as a whole. Moreover, the recent Volga delta development shows that progradation is related to forced regression, not to avulsion triggered by base-level rise and/or subsidence. Thus, the Volga delta provides an excellent example of the impact of high-frequency sea-level changes on a ramp margin-type fluvio-deltaic system. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-157
JournalSedimentary Geology
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • mississippi river delta
  • saskatchewan river
  • okavango fan
  • level rise
  • sequence stratigraphy
  • cumberland marshes
  • lacustrine deltas
  • 1870s avulsion
  • evolution
  • canada

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