A high-resolution geophysical investigation of sediment distribution controlled by catchment size and tides in a multi-basin turbid outwash fjord: Simpson Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska Academic Article uri icon


  • Surficial sediment distribution within Simpson Bay is a function of antecedent bedrock and recently deposited glacial geology, as well as active physical processes both within Simpson Bay and Prince William Sound (PWS). Simpson Bay is a turbid, outwash fjord located in northeastern PWS, Alaska. Freshwater from heavy precipitation, and the melting of high alpine glaciers enter the bay through bay head rivers and small shoreline creeks. The catchment has a high watershed/basin surface area ratio (8:1), and easily erodible bedrock that contribute to high sediment loads. The system can be divided into three discrete basins, each with specific morphologic and circulatory characters. Side scan sonar, swath bathymetry, and seismic profiles reveal that bathymetric highs are areas of outcropping glacial surfaces. High backscatter coupled with surface grab samples reveal these surfaces to be composed of coarse sediment and bedrock outcrops. Bathymetric lows are areas of low backscatter, and grab samples reveal these areas to be ponded deposits of organic-rich estuarine muds. The data provide evidence of terminal morainal bank systems, and glacial grounding line deposits at the mouth of the bay and rocky outcrops were identified as subsurface extensions of aerial rocky promontories. Radioisotope analyses of short cores reveal that the bay has an average accumulation rate of approx. 0.5 cm year-1, but that this varies in function of the watershed/basin surface area ratios of the different basins. The interaction of tidal currents and sediment source drives sediment distribution in Simpson Bay. Hydrographic data reveal high spatial variability in surface and bottom currents throughout the bay. Subsurface currents are tide dominated, but generally weak (5-20 cm s-1), while faster currents are found along shorelines, outcrops, and bathymetric highs. Bathymetric data reveal steep slopes with little to no modern sediment throughout the bay, suggesting lack of deposition due to tidal currents. Springer-Verlag 2008.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Noll, C. J., Dellapenna, T. M., Gilkinson, A., & Davis, R. W.

citation count

  • 15

complete list of authors

  • Noll, Christian J||Dellapenna, Timothy M||Gilkinson, Andrea||Davis, Randall W

publication date

  • February 2009