The late holocene evolution of coastal wetlands in Argyll, Western Scotland
A detailed geochronological and geochemical study has been undertaken on selected sediment cores from four lowland coastal marsh environments in Argyll, Western Scotland. This region of northern Britain has experienced differential crustal uplift and relative sea-level changes throughout the Holocene in response to glacio-isostatic adjustment. The complex interplay between land movements and relative sea-level continues to influence the morphological development of the Scottish coast. The study of lowland inter-tidal sedimentary environments from this region provides an opportunity to investigate the linkages between current estimated crustal movements, regional relative sea-level rise and the evolution of contemporary coastal saltmarshes derived from the record of historical sedimentation. The four sites are located across a ca. 70 km transect extending from the head of Loch Scridain (western Isle of Mull), across the Firth of Lorne to the head of Loch Etive, (mainland Argyll). Vertical activity distributions of the natural radionuclide 21OPb and anthropogenic isotopes (137Cs and 243Am) have been measured and are used to assess the depositional history of marsh sediment accumulation recorded in the four marsh cores. Down-core activity profiles of radionuclides are only reliable as a means of modelling recent marsh evolution provided no early-diagenetic (redox) reactions have compromised the historical depositional record within the marsh sediments. Solid-phase major and trace element down-core geochemical distributions provide a means of assessing the extent to which post-depositional (redox) reactions may have influenced the reliability of the radiometric dating methods. Marsh sediment geochemistry also serves as a useful proxy for identifying compositional variability over the period of marsh development investigated. Dating of the Argyll saltmarsh cores indicates that over the period corresponding to mature marsh conditions rates of sedimentation vary significantly across the study area. At Loch Scridain an average rate of 1.1 mm yr-1 corresponding to an historical period of ca. 130 years is recorded. Comparison with estimated rates of regional sea-level rise suggest an established asymptotic relationship between marsh accretion and coastal forcing, implying historical crustal stability at this site. At sites within the Firth of Lome (Loch Don and Loch Creran) average rates of 2.5 and 3.3 mm yr-1 are recorded for the ca. 70 year period to 1995 with a figure of 2.2 mm yr-1 recorded in the marsh core from the head of Loch Etive. These values are well in excess of estimated relative sea-level rise during the twentieth century suggesting that these marshes may not yet have reached full equilibrium with sea-level. Microfossil analysis of the Loch Etive core helps to identify a more complex depositional history with an underlying trend of marine transgression for the ca. 110 year period of marsh development recorded in these sediments. Over the most recent period of marsh development (ca. 5 years) a significant increase in the rate of marsh sedimentation at all sites is recorded. This signifies the response of these marshes to a very recent increase in the rate of relative sea-level rise across the region. Comparison with available storm frequency data indicates that the evolution of these marsh environments have not been subject to the influence of significant storm activity over the last in the late Twetieth century. The findings suggest that the more clastic sedimentary composition of the Argyll marshes results in these inter-tidal areas being extremely sensitive to changes in coastal forcing (sea-level rise). The implications of recent relative sea-level rise, current vertical crustal movements and future coastal management are discussed.