Holocene evolution of a coastal lagoon, Lake of Tunis, Tunisia

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ABSTRACT

Historical records demonstrate that the Lake of Tunis, Tunisia, was an open bay that became separated from the Mediterranean by an accreting barrier spit, forming a lagoon. Closure of the lagoon was caused by increased sedimentation as a consequence of Roman deforestation of the Medjerda River drainage basin to the north and subsequent accelerated longshore transport. The separation of the lagoon from the Mediterranean was completed in the early 1500s. At present, the 48 km2 lagoon averages less than 1 m in depth and reaches eutrophic conditions in the late summer. Consistent with the historical records, the lagoon sedimentary column shows three distinct successive environments of deposition: (1) an arid continental environment; (2) an open marine bay; and (3) the present brackish to hypersaline lagoon. These depositional environments are represented by the lower grey layer, which is less than 0-5 m thick, the middle olive-grey layer, which varies from 1 to 5 m in thickness, and the upper black layer, which is 1 m thick. All of the strata are predominantly silt plus clay, but usually contain at least 10% sand. The lower grey layer consists of pitted quartz sand, with very few abraded, broken molluscan fragments and benthic foraminifera with thick tests. An arid, subaerial depositional environment of latest Pleistocene time best explains these sediment and fossil assemblages. In the middle olive-grey layer, coral, coralline algae, open marine graeses and the dominance of foraminifera over ostracods (expressed as a low percentage of ostracods/ostracods plus foraminifera) attest to a depositional environment of an open marine bay. A sharp increase in the percentage of ostracods/ostracods plus foraminifera and organic carbon from the middle olive-grey layer to the upper black layer signifies a major change in depositional environment. The predominance of ostracods over foraminifera, abundance of gastropods characteristic of eutrophic conditions, high organic carbon content and absence of macro-fossils characteristic of open marine conditions clearly indicate that the upper black layer was deposited in a brackish to hypersaline, eutrophic lagoon which has persisted to the present. Seismic records indicate a karstic bedrock surface underlying the lagoon. The surface is marked by considerable relief, and shows a linear depression which may represent an early sixteenth century ship canal. Heavy metal analyses of total samples in five cores demonstrate that Mn and Fe vary randomly, and are apparently derived from natural sources only. Cd, Cr, Pb, Cu and Zn are typically highest in the uppermost unit, which reflects levels of human contamination since closure of the lagoon.

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