Form, function and feedbacks in a tidally dominated ooid shoal, Bahamas

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Abstract

Although the general aspects of oolitic depositional systems are well documented, seascape-scale (≈103–106 m2) patterns of oolitic shoals and the details of processes acting on them are not well understood or quantified. To begin to fill this basic gap in understanding, this paper describes the morphology and hydrodynamics of Lily Bank, a Modern tidally dominated Bahamian ooid shoal. In this study, integrating remote sensing imagery with quantitative, geo-located bathymetrical, hydrological and granulometric data in a Geographic Information System documents geomorphic and sedimentological patterns and facilitates interpreting these patterns in the context of the processes operating in this system. The results of these analyses reveal that parabolic bars up to several kilometres in wavelength and several metres in height form a common morphologic motif, although there is considerable variation on that general theme. The seascape-scale configuration of bars and superimposed sedimentary structures is closely linked to spatial patterns of tidal movements, and includes the presence of mutually evasive flood and ebb channels. Sedimentologically, bars are neither homogenous nor random bodies; instead, granulometric parameters such as sorting and percentage mud vary systematically, as shaped by hydro-geomorphic controls. The best sorted, coarsest ooids are on bar crests, whereas the finest grains are found in the lower energy, deeper interior and flanking regions. In short, results clearly document hydrodynamic-bathymetrical influences on these ooid shoals and their granulometry, linkages akin to siliciclastic analogues. Sedimentological, hydrodynamic and geomorphic observations are consistent with a conceptual model for the formation of parabolic bars in which initial irregularities in non-parabolic bars are enhanced through their effect of focusing flow. Constricted flow leads to higher flow velocities, tidal flow velocity asymmetries, differential net sediment transport and growth of bathymetrical highs. This bathymetrical divergence creates separate paths for flood- and ebb-tides, facilitating emergence of better-developed parabolic forms. The resultant parabolic geometries and component bedforms appear to be either in dynamic equilibrium with both ebb- and flood-tide flows, or evolving toward that state. In exploring patterns and processes within carbonate shoals, this study illustrates some of the first documented insights on quantitative details of morphology and dynamics and in the links between geomorphic framework and grain-size and sorting in an oolitic carbonate system. Assuming a continuity of processes between ancient and modern, the insights from this shoal provide information on possible facies geometries and on the characteristics of grains and depositional porosity of analogous facies within ancient ooid shoals.

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