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Barrier island response to late Holocene climate events, North Carolina, USA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

David J. Mallinson*
Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, USA
Curtis W. Smith
Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, USA
Shannon Mahan
USGS Luminescence Dating Laboratory, Denver Federal Facility, Denver, CO 80225, USA
Stephen J. Culver
Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, USA
Katie McDowell
Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, USA
Corresponding author. E-mail address: (D.J. Mallinson).


The Outer Banks barrier islands of North Carolina, USA, contain a geologic record of inlet activity that extends from ca. 2200 cal yr BP to the present, and can be used as a proxy for storm activity. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating (26 samples) of inlet-fill and flood tide delta deposits, recognized in cores and geophysical data, provides the basis for understanding the chronology of storm impacts and comparison to other paleoclimate proxy data. OSL ages of historical inlet fill compare favorably to historical documentation of inlet activity, providing confidence in the technique. Comparison suggests that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and Little Ice Age (LIA) were both characterized by elevated storm conditions as indicated by much greater inlet activity relative to today. Given present understanding of atmospheric circulation patterns and sea-surface temperatures during the MWP and LIA, we suggest that increased inlet activity during the MWP responded to intensified hurricane impacts, while elevated inlet activity during the LIA was in response to increased nor'easter activity. A general decrease in storminess at mid-latitudes in the North Atlantic over the last 300 yr has allowed the system to evolve into a more continuous barrier with few inlets.

Research Article
University of Washington

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1 Present address:Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission, 23372 Front Street, Accomac, VA 23301, USA.
2 Present address: Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723, USA.


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