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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

AAPG Bulletin


Volume: 49 (1965)

Issue: 3. (March)

First Page: 334

Last Page: 335

Title: A Resume of River Delta Types: ABSTRACT

Author(s): H. A. Bernard

Article Type: Meeting abstract


Deltas and deltaic sediments are produced by the rapid deposition of stream-borne materials in relatively still-standing bodies of water. Notwithstanding the effects of subsidence and water level movements, most deltaic sediments are deposited off the delta shoreline in the proximity of the river's mouth. As these materials build upward to the level of the still-standing body of water, the remainder of deltaic sediments are deposited on shore, within the delta's flood plains, lakes, bays, and channels.

Nearly 2,500 years ago, Herodotus, using the Nile as an example, stated that the land area reclaimed from the sea by deposition of river sediments is generally deltoid in shape. The build-up and progradation of deltaic sediments produces a distinct change in stream gradient from the fluvial or alluvial plain to the deltaic plain. Near the point of gradient change the major courses of rivers generally begin to transport much finer materials, to bifurcate into major distributaries, and to form subaerial deltaic plains. The boundaries of the subaerial plain of an individual delta are the lateral-most distributaries, including their related sediments, and the coast line. Successively smaller distributaries form subdeltas of progressively smaller magnitudes.

Deltas may be classified on the basis of the nature of their associated water bodies, such as lake, bay, inland

End_Page 334------------------------------

sea, and marine deltas. Other classifications may be based on the depth of the water bodies into which they prograde, or on basin structure.

Many delta types have been described previously. Most of these have been related to the vicissitudes of sedimentary processes by which they form. Names were derived largely from the shapes of the delta shorelines. The configuration of the delta shores and many other depositional forms expressed by different sedimentary facies appear to be directly proportional to the relative relationship of the amount or rate of river sediment influx with the nature and energy of the coastal processes. The more common and better understood types, listed in order of decreasing sediment influx and increasing energy of coastal processes (waves, currents, and tides), are: birdfoot, lobate, cuspate, arcuate, and estuarine. The subdeltas of the Colorado River in Texas illustrate this relationship. During t e first part of this century, the river, transporting approximately the same yearly load, built a birdfoot-lobate type delta in Matagorda Bay, a low-energy water body, and began to form a cuspate delta in the Gulf of Mexico, a comparatively high-energy water body. Many deltas are compounded; their subdeltas may be representative of two or more types of deltas, such as birdfoot, lobate, and arcuate. Less-known deltas, such as the Irrawaddy, Ganges, and Mekong, are probably mature estuarine types. Others, located very near major scarps, are referred to the "Gilbert type," which is similar to an alluvial fan.

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Copyright 1997 American Association of Petroleum Geologists