Analysis of 75 vibracores from the backbarrier region of Kiawah Island, South Carolina reveals a complex association of three distinct stratigraphic sequences. Beach ridge progradation and orientation-controlled backbarrier development during the evolution of Kiawah Island, and resulted in deposition of: (1) a mud-rich central backbarrier sequence consisting of low marsh overlying fine-grained, tidal flat/lagoonal mud; (2) a sandy beach-ridge swale sequence consisting of high and low marsh overlying tidal creek channel and point bar sand, and foreshore/shoreface; and (3) a regressive sequence of sandy, mixed, and muddy tidal flats capped by salt marsh that occurs on the updrift end of the island.
Central backbarrier deposits formed as a result of the development of the initial beach ridge on Kiawah Island. Formation of this beach ridge created a backbarrier lagoon in which fine-grained estuarine and tidal flat mud accumulated. Washovers, oyster mounds, and tidal creek deposits form isolated sand and/or shell-rich lenses in the lagoon. Spartina alterniflora low marsh prograded into the lagoon as the tidal flats aggraded.
Barrier progradation and sediment bar-bypassing at Stono Inlet created digitate beach ridges on the northeast end of Kiawah Island. Within the beach-ridge swales, tidal flats were disconformably deposited on shoreface and foreshore sand of the older beach ridges. Tidal creek drainage systems evolved to drain the swales. These rapidly migrating creeks reworked the tidal flat, foreshore, and shoreface sediments while redepositing a fining-upward sequence of channel lag and point bar deposits, which served as a substrate for salt marsh colonization.
This resultant regressive sedimentary package marks the culmination of barrier island development and estuary infilling. Given enough time and sedimentation, the backbarrier sequence will ultimately prograde over the barrier island, reworking dune, beach, and foreshore sediments to form the upper sand-rich bounding surface of the barrier lithosome. Preservation of the regressive sequence is dependent upon sediment supply and the relative rate of sea-level rise, but the reworking of barrier islands by tidal inlets and migrating tidal creeks greatly alter and complicate the stratigraphic sequence.