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ABSTRACT

Three lines of evidence based on data from more than 400 boreholes and vibrocores have been used to reconstruct the evolution of the barrier islands during the Holocene transgression in southern Long Island, New York: (1) the Holocene transgressive stratigraphic sequence behind the present barriers, (2) the stratigraphic patterns of the inner shelf, and (3) the morphology of the now-buried late Pleistocene coastal features.

The extensive preservation of backbarrier sediments, radiocarbon dated between 7000 and 8000 yr BP, on the inner shelf of southern Long Island suggests that the barriers have not retreated by continuous shoreface erosion alone, but have also undergone discontinuous retreat by in-place ‘drowning’ of barriers and stepwise retreat of the surf zone. Such stepwise retreat of the surf zone has prevented the backbarrier sediments from being reworked.

Based on the presence of submerged barrier sand bodies in seismic records, it is inferred that about 9000 years ago, when the sea stood about 24 m below the present sea level, a chain of barriers developed on the present shelf about 7 km offshore of the present barriers. With continued sea-level rise, the – 24 m barrier built upward until the sea reached about – 15 m MSL, just prior to 7000 yr BP. The barriers were then submerged by the rapidly rising sea, and the surf zone shifted rapidly landward to a position about 2 km from the present shoreline. The surf zone overstepped to the landward margin of the old lagoon, which had become fixed at the steep seaward face of mid-Wisconsinan (?) or Sangamonian coastal barriers. During the past 5000 or 6000 years, the shoreface has retreated continuously by about 2 km.

Evidence from southern Long Island and elsewhere in regions of coastal submergence indicates that rapid sea-level rise and low sand supply seem to favour the stepwise retreat of barriers, whereas slow rates of submergence and a greater supply of sand generally favour continuous shoreface retreat. Stationary upbuilding, or seaward progradation of barriers may occur when supply of sand is great, and/or submergence is slowed or reversed. Morphologic highs on the pretransgression surface (such as old barrier ridges) tend to fix the migrating barrier shoreline during either continuous retreat, or stepwise retreat of barriers.