A source-to-sink perspective of the Waipaoa River margin

Steven A. Kuehl, Clark R. Alexander, Neal E. Blair, Courtney K. Harris, Kathleen M. Marsaglia, Andrea S. Ogston, Alan R. Orpin, Joshua J. Roering, Aaron J. Bever, Eric L. Bilderback, Lionel Carter, Corina Cerovski-Darriau, Laurel B. Childress, D. Reide Corbett, Richard P. Hale, Elana L. Leithold, Nicola Litchfield, Julia M. Moriarty, Mike J. Page, Lila E.R. PiercePhaedra Upton, John P. Walsh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


A fundamental goal of the Earth Science community is to understand how perturbations on Earth's surface are preserved in the stratigraphic record. Recent Source to Sink (S2S) studies of the Waipaoa Sedimentary System (WSS), New Zealand, are synthesized herein to provide a holistic perspective of the processes that generate, transport and preserve sedimentary strata and organic carbon on the Waipaoa margin in the late Quaternary. Rapid uplift associated with subduction processes and weak sedimentary units have conspired to generate rapid rates of incision and erosion in the Waipaoa catchment since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). We show that although much of the sediment exported offshore during this time interval originated from valley excavation, a substantial portion emanated from hillslopes, mostly through deep-seated landslide and earthflow processes that were vigorous during periods of rapid fluvial incision just prior to the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Lacustrine sediments deposited in naturally-dammed 7-ky-old Lake Tutira provide a record of Holocene environmental controls on upper catchment sedimentation in the WSS, with 1400 storms identified. Storm frequency is modulated by the waxing and waning of atmospheric teleconnections between the tropics and Antarctica. Furthermore, clear long-term changes in sediment yield are evident from the Lake Tutira record following human settlement as conversion to pasture is accompanied by a 3-fold increase in the long-term lake sediment accumulation rate.Whereas there is ample evidence that Waipaoa River flood deposits are routinely deposited offshore in the sheltered confines of Poverty Bay, over the longer term, waves and currents subsequently resuspend and transport these deposits both landward (sandy fraction) and seaward (finer fraction). Thus, the timing of sediment supply to areas of net sediment accumulation is more often driven by wave events that are not associated with river flooding. Therefore, we conclude that asynchronicity of river-sediment delivery and of wave resuspension in most instances precludes the direct preservation of flood events in the stratigraphic record of the Waipaoa Shelf. Over the longer term, the sediment package preserved on the shelf and slope since the LGM can be explained in large measure by sequence-stratigraphic models forced by varying sea level and ongoing tectonic deformation of the margin. As sea level rose, sediment supply to the slope was reduced by about a factor of 5 due to shelf trapping. Despite this reduction, turbidites are found at similar frequency throughout the LGM-Present, as the dominant trigger appears to be subduction earthquakes, with large ones having a return interval of about 200 ± 100 years. Sediment-budget exercises that consider both modern (river discharge versus centennial accumulation rates) and post-LGM (terrestrial production versus offshore isopachs) mass balances indicate that about half of the total sediment production from the Waipaoa escapes the study area. Moreover, a coupled sediment transport-hydrodynamic model and observations of textural trends on the shelf indicate that a large fraction of the sediment is carried outside the study area along the shelf to the northeast by the river plume or by combined current/wave activity. Therefore, we conclude that the WSS is an open system with sediment escape from the present day through the LGM.The organic matter associated with sediment as it moves from upland source to marine sink is a product of particle history, and provides a record of materials that have cycled over timescales of days to millions of years. The ubiquity of fossil Organic Carbon (OC) in both the terrestrial and marine realms of the Waipaoa attests both to the chronic nature of its source, crumbling mudstones further destabilized by land use, and its biogeochemical recalcitrance. Modern OC persists by virtue of its continual production along the S2S transit, and is buried and preserved within the adjacent marine depocenters. The Waipaoa contrasts with dispersal systems on wide, energetic shelves (e.g., the Amazon and Fly Rivers) where sediment is extensively refluxed in oxygenated overlying water resulting in the biogeochemical incineration of particulate OC. The Waipaoa, like other small mountainous rivers on active margins, exhibits a high riverine OC preservation efficiency (>. 50%) in its marine depocenters because of the relatively rapid, event-driven accumulation of sediment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-334
Number of pages34
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016


  • Carbon cycle
  • Continental margin
  • Landscape evolution
  • New Zealand
  • Sediment transport
  • Sedimentology
  • Stratigraphy
  • Waipaoa River

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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