Stratigraphic, Hydrologic, and Climatic Influences on the Formation and Spatial Distribution of Carolina Bays in Central Delaware
The geology and hydrology of the area between Wrangle Hill and Delaware City, Delaware, have been the focus of numerous studies since the 1950s because of the importance of the local groundwater supply and the potential environmental impact of industrial activity. In this report, 490 boreholes from six decades of drilling provide dense coverage, allowing detailed characterization of the subsurface geologic framework that controls groundwater occurrence and flow.
The region contains a lower section of tabular Cretaceous strata (Potomac, Merchantville, Englishtown, Marshalltown,and Mount Laurel Formations in ascending order) and a more stratigraphically complex upper section of Pleistocene-to-modern units (Columbia, Lynch Heights, and Scotts Corners Formations, latest Pleistocene and Holocene surficial sediments and estuarine deposits). The lowermost Potomac Formation is a mosaic of alluvial facies and includes fluvial channel sands that function as confined aquifer beds; however, the distribution of aquifer-quality sand within the formation is extremely heterogeneous. The Merchantville Formation serves as the most significant confining layer. The Columbia Formation is predominantly sand and functions as an unconfined aquifer over much of the study area.
To delineate the distribution and character of the subsurface formations, densely spaced structural-stratigraphic cross sections were constructed and structural contour maps were created for the top of the Potomac Formation and base of the Columbia Formation. The Cretaceous formations form a series of relatively parallel strata that dip gently (0.4 degrees) to the southeast. These formations are progressively truncated to the north by more flatly dipping Quaternary sediments, except in a narrow north-south oriented belt on the east side of the study area where the deeply incised Reybold paleochannel eroded into the Potomac Formation.
The Reybold paleochannel is one of the most significant geological features in the study area. It is a relatively narrow sandfilled trough defined by deep incision at the base of the Columbia Formation. It reaches depths of more than 110 ft below sea level with a width as narrow as 1,500 ft. It is interpreted to be the result of scour by the sudden release of powerful floodwaters from the north associated with one or more Pleistocene deglaciations. Where the Reybold paleochannel cuts through the Merchantville confining layer, a potential pathway exists for hydrological communication between Columbia and Potomac aquifer sands.
East of the paleochannel, multiple cut-and-fill units within the Pleistocene to Holocene section create a complex geologic framework. The Lynch Heights and Scotts Corners Formations were deposited along the paleo-Delaware River in the late Pleistocene and are commonly eroded into the older Pleistocene Columbia Formation. They are associated with scarps and terraces that represent several generations of sea-level-driven Pleistocene cut-and-fill. They, in turn, have been locally eroded and covered by Holocene marsh and swamp deposits. The Lynch Heights and Scotts Corners Formations include sands that are unconfined aquifers but complicated geometries and short-distance facies changes make their configuration more complex than that of the Columbia Formation.
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.
This vector data set contains the rock unit polygons for the surficial geology in the Delaware Coastal Plain covered by DGS Geologic Map No. 16 (Fairmount and Rehoboth Beach quadrangles). The geologic history of the surficial units of the Fairmount and Rehoboth Beach quadrangles is that of deposition of the Beaverdam Formation and its subsequent modification by erosion and deposition related to sea-level fluctuations during the Pleistocene. The geology reflects this complex history both onshore, in Rehoboth Bay, and offshore. Erosion during the late Pleistocene sea-level low stand and ongoing deposition offshore and in Rehoboth Bay during the Holocene rise in sea level represent the last of several cycles of erosion and deposition.
To facilitate the GIS community of Delaware and to release the geologic map of the Fairmount and Rehoboth Beach quadrangles with all cartographic elements (including geologic symbology, text, etc.) in a form usable in a GIS, we have released this digital coverage of DGS Geological Map 16. The update of earlier work and mapping of new units is important not only to geologists, but also to hydrologists who wish to understand the distribution of water resources, to engineers who need bedrock information during construction of roads and buildings, to government officials and agencies who are planning for residential and commercial growth, and to citizens who are curious about the bedrock under their homes. Formal names are assigned to all rock units according to the guidelines of the 1983 North American Stratigraphic Code (NACSN, 1983).
The geologic history of the surficial units of the Fairmount and Rehoboth Beach quadrangles is that of deposition of the Beaverdam Formation and its subsequent modification by erosion and deposition related to sea-level fluctuations during the Pleistocene. The geology reflects this complex history both onshore, in Rehoboth Bay, and offshore. Erosion during the late Pleistocene sea-level low stand and ongoing deposition offshore and in Rehoboth Bay during the Holocene rise in sea level represent the last of several cycles of erosion and deposition.
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).
It is a clayey, calcareous, shelly, glauconitic (10-20 percent) silt. Its colors range from greenish-gray and gray-green to brownish-gray and light gray. It is rich in calcareous and siliceous microfossils. The matrix mineralogy shows a high calcite component, except in the lower part of the formation which is within a calcite dissolution interval. In the lower half of the formation quartz is predominant.
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).
The Omar Formation was originally described (Jordan, 1962) as consisting of interbedded, gray to dark gray, quartz sands and silts with bedding ranging from a few inches to more than 10 feet thick. Thin laminae of clay are found within the fine, well-sorted sands. Silt mixed with sand generally contains some plant matter and where dark in color could be considered organic. Sands contain wood fragments, some of which are lignitic.
The Ironshire Formation was described by Owens and Denny (1979) as consisting of a lower loose, pale-yellow to white, well-sorted, medium sand characterized by long, low-angle inclined beds with laminae of black minerals. The upper portion of the units was described as consisting of light-colored, trough cross-stratified, well-sorted sand with pebbles and a few Callianassa borings. They described the Ironshire Formation near Rehoboth in a stratigraphic section which is now considered to be a part of the Lynch Heights Formation.
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 composition, thickness, and geophysical log signature of the Bethany Formation vary with location and depth. In general, the Bethany Formation is a sequence of clayey and silty beds with discontinuous lenses of sand (Andres, 1986; Ramsey, 2003). The most common lithologies are silty, clayey fine sand; sandy, silty clay; clayey, sandy silt; fine to medium sand; sandy, clayey silt, and medium to coarse sand with granule and pebble layers. Thin gravel layers occur most frequently in updip areas and are rarer in downdip areas. Sands are typically quartzose. Lignite, plant remains, and mica are common, grains of glauconite are rare. In the Lewes area, Ramsey (2003) describes the Bethany Formation as consisting of gray, olive gray, bluish-gray clay to clayey silt interbedded with fine to very coarse sand. Lignitic and gravelly beds are common.
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.
RI76 Stratigraphy, Correlation, and Depositional Environments of the Middle to Late Pleistocene Interglacial Deposits of Southern Delaware
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. The Assawoman Bay Group, recognized inland of Delaware’s Atlantic Coast, is subdivided into the Omar Formation, the Ironshire Formation, and the Sinepuxent Formation. The Nanticoke River Group, found along the margins of the Nanticoke River and its tributaries, is subdivided into the Turtle Branch Formation (named herein) and the Kent Island Formation.
Delaware Bay Group deposits consist of bay-margin coarse sand and gravel that fine upward to silt and silty sand. Beds of organic-rich mud were deposited in tidal marshes. Near the present Atlantic Coast, the Delaware Bay Group includes organic-rich muds and shelly muds deposited in lagoonal environments.
Assawoman Bay Group deposits range from very fine, silty sands to silty clays with shells deposited in back-barrier lagoons, to fine to coarse, well-sorted sands deposited in barriers and spits.
Nanticoke River Group deposits consist of coarse sand and gravel that fine upward to silty clays. Oyster shells are found associated with the clays in the Turtle Branch Formation. Organic-rich clayey silts were deposited in swamps and estuaries. Well-sorted fine sands to gravelly sands were deposited on beaches and tidal flats on the flanks of the ancestral Nanticoke River and its tributaries.
The Lynch Heights, Omar, and Turtle Branch Formations are age-equivalent units associated with highstands of sea level,which occurred at approximately 400,000 and 325,000 yrs B.P. (MIS 11 and 9, respectively). The Scotts Corners, Ironshire, Sinepuxent, and Kent Island Formations are age-equivalent units associated with highstands of sea level, which occurred between 120,000 and 80,000 yrs B.P. (MIS 5e and 5a, respectively).
Yellowish-brown to light-gray, medium to fine sand with thin beds and laminae of medium to coarse sand and scattered pebbles (B) that grades downward into bioturbated, gray, very fine sand to silt (A). Rare beds of light-gray to red silty clay are found near the contact with the overlying Beaverdam Formation. Laminae of opaque heavy minerals are present in the upper sands. Laminae of very fine organic particles are found in the lower sand as well as laminae to thin beds of coarse sand to gravel. The burrows in the lower sand are clay lined, and in some intervals, the sediment is completely bioturbated to the extent that no sedimentary structures are preserved. Sand is primarily quartz with less than 5% feldspar and a trace to less than 1% mica (in the very fine sand to silt). Glauconite is present only in trace amounts. Fragments of lignite are common to rare in the organic laminae. Interpreted to be a late Miocene, very shallow marine to marginal marine (shoreface) deposit (McLaughlin et al., 2008). About 100 to 120 ft thick in the Georgetown Quadrangle.
The stratigraphy of the Coastal Plain of Delaware is discussed with emphasis placed upon an appraisal of the stratigraphic nomenclature. A revised stratigraphic column for Delaware is proposed. Rock stratigraphic units, based mainly on data from certain key wells, are described and the published names which have been or which might conceivably be applied to those units are reviewed. In each case a name is chosen and the reasons for the choice are stated. The relationships between the column established for Delaware and the recognized columns for adjacent states are considered. The rock units of the Coastal Plain of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland form an interrelated mass. However, profound facies changes do occur, particularly in the dip direction, but also along the strike. Thus, attempts to extend units established in the outcrop belt almost indefinitely into the subsurface have been unsatisfactory.