Open-File Report 50 presents and describes a database of geochronological information for coastal deposits of the US Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as for sites from the Pacific coast of South America. This database represents a synthesis of nearly forty years of study conducted by John F. Wehmiller and students in the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Delaware, as well as many collaborating colleagues.
The complex geologic history of the surficial units of the Harbeson Quadrangle is one of deposition of the Beaverdam Formation and its subsequent modification by erosion and deposition related to sea-level fluctuations during the Pleistocene. The geology is further complicated by periglacial activity that produced dune deposits and Carolina Bays scattered throughout the map area.
The Nanticoke River Group consists of the Turtle Branch and Kent Island Formations. The Nanticoke River Group consists of heterogeneous units of interbedded fine to coarse sand, clayey silt, sandy silt, and silty clay. Where the units are muddy, downstream of Seaford, the sequence consists of a lower fluvial to estuarine swamp to tidal stream deposits (coarse sand to gravelly sand with scattered organic-rich muddy beds) overlain by estuarine clayey silts and silty clays that contain rare to common Crassostrea (oyster) bioherms. The silts and clays are overlain by sands with clay laminae, to fine to coarse well-sorted, clean sand that are estuarne beach and eolian in origin. Upstream, the mud beds are rarer and restricted to the west side of streams and consist of organic rich clayey silt. Most of the stratigraphic section is dominated by clean, well-sorted sands.
The Assawoman Bay Group consists of the well-sorted sands, silts, and clays of the Omar, Ironshire, and Sinepuxent Formations found adjacent to and inland of the Atlantic Coast of Delaware and Maryland. These deposits in Delaware and Maryland were named from oldest to youngest: the Omar Formation (Jordan, 1962, 1964), the Ironshire Formation (Owens and Denny, 1979a), and the Sinepuxent Formation (Owens and Denny, 1979a).
Owens and Denny (1979) named the Kent Island Formation for deposits bordering the Chesapeake Bay found underneath lowlands that ranged in elevation from 0 to 25 feet in elevation but most of the land surface area is less than 10 feet in elevation. These lowlands are bordered by a scarp with at toe at approximately 25 feet. In its type area, the Kent Island Formation was described as consisting of thick beds of loose, light colored, cross-stratified sand overlying dark-colored massive to thinly laminated clay-silt. Pebbles as much as 10 cm (4 in.) in diameter occur in thin beds with the sand or as scattered clasts in both the sand and clay-silt. Locally, large tree stumps in growth position are encased in the clay-silt. Maximum thickness of the Kent Island was about 12 m (40 feet).
Owens and Denny (1979) described the Sinepuxent Formation in Maryland as dark, poorly sorted, silty fine to medium sand with the lower part of the unit being fine grained with thin beds of black clay. The Sinepuxent Formation is described as being lithically distinct from the Omar and Ironshire Formations due to the presence gray, laminated, silty very fine to fine, quartzose, micaceous, sand to sandy silt. The base of the unit is typically a bluishgray to dark-gray clayey silt to silty clay. There are a few shelly zones within the Sinepuxent Formation in the vicinity of Bethany Beach (McDonald, 1981; McLaughlin et al., 2008). The Sinepuxent Formation is up to 40 feet thick.
The upper part of the Cypress Swamp Formation is a multi-colored, thinly bedded to laminated, quartzose fine sand to silty fine sand, with areally discontinuous laminae to thin beds of fine to coarse sand, sandy silt, clayey silt, organic silt, and peat. The lowermost 3 to 6 ft of the unit are commonly composed of thin beds of dark-colored, organic-rich, clayey silt with laminae to thin beds of fine sand and peat. Fine sand to fine sandy silt are present at the base of the unit in boreholes where the lower organic-rich beds are absent. Dark-colored, peaty, organic-rich silt and clayey silt with laminae of fine to medium sand as much as 4.5 ft thick are common within 5 ft of land surface, but may be absent in some locations. Colors are shades of brown, gray, and green where the unit contains visible organic matter, and orange, yellow, and red at shallow depths where the organic-rich beds are absent. Clay-sized minerals are a mixed suite that includes kaolinite, chlorite, illite, and vermiculite.
Rising and highstands of sea level during the middle to late Pleistocene deposited swamp to nearshore sediments along the margins of an ancestral Delaware Bay, Atlantic coastline, and tributaries to an ancestral Chesapeake Bay. These deposits are divided into three lithostratigraphic groups: the Delaware Bay Group, the Assawoman Bay Group (named herein), and the Nanticoke River Group (named herein). The Delaware Bay Group, mapped along the margins of Delaware Bay, is subdivided into the Lynch Heights Formation and the Scotts Corners Formation.