Articles | Volume 12, issue 12
Research article
06 Dec 2016
Research article |  | 06 Dec 2016

Sedimentary archives of climate and sea-level changes during the Holocene in the Rhône prodelta (NW Mediterranean Sea)

Anne-Sophie Fanget, Maria-Angela Bassetti, Christophe Fontanier, Alina Tudryn, and Serge Berné

Abstract. A 7.38 m long sediment core was collected from the eastern section of the Rhône prodelta (NW Mediterranean) at 67 m water depth. A multi-proxy study (including sedimentary facies, benthic foraminifera, ostracods, and clay mineralogy) provides a multi-decadal to century-scale record of climate and sea-level changes during the Holocene. The early Holocene is marked by alternative silt and clay layers interpreted as distal tempestites deposited in a context of rising sea level. This interval contains shallow infra-littoral benthic meiofauna (e.g., Pontocythere elongata, Elphidium spp., Quinqueloculina lata) and formed between ca. 20 and 50 m water depth. The middle Holocene (ca. 8.3 to 4.5 ka cal. BP) is characterized, at the core site, by a period of sediment starvation (accumulation rate of ca. 0.01 cm yr−1) resulting from the maximum landward shift of the shoreline and the Rhône outlet(s). From a sequence stratigraphic point of view, this condensed section, about 35 cm thick, can be identified on seismic profiles as a maximum flooding surface that marks the transition between delta retrogradation and delta progradation. The transition between the early Holocene deposits and the middle Holocene condensed section is marked by a gradual change in all proxy records. Following the stabilization of sea level at a global scale, the late Holocene is marked by the establishment of prodeltaic conditions at the core site, as shown by the lithofacies and by the presence of benthic meiofauna typical of the modern Rhône prodelta (e.g., Valvulineria bradyana, Cassidulina carinata, Bulimina marginata). Several periods of increased fluvial discharge are also emphasized by the presence of species commonly found in brackish and shallow-water environments (e.g., Leptocythere spp.). Some of these periods correspond to the multi-decadal to centennial late Holocene humid periods recognized in Europe (i.e., the 2.8 ka event and the Little Ice Age). Two other periods of increased runoffs at ca. 1.3 and 1.1 ka cal. BP are recognized, which are likely to reflect periods of regional climate deterioration that are observed in the Rhône watershed. Conversely, the Migration Period Cooling (ca. 1.4 ka cal. BP) and the Medieval Climate Anomaly (ca. AD 950–1250) correspond locally to periods of increased dryness.