Articles | Volume 38
Adv. Geosci., 38, 9–20, 2014
Adv. Geosci., 38, 9–20, 2014

  28 Jan 2014

28 Jan 2014

A coral-rubble ridge as evidence for hurricane overwash, Anegada (British Virgin Islands)

M. Spiske1 and R. B. Halley*,** M. Spiske and R. B. Halley
  • 1Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Institut für Geologie und Paläontologie, Corrensstrasse 24, 48149 Münster, Germany
  • *formerly at: USGS, 600 4th St South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
  • **retired

Abstract. A coral-rubble ridge fringes part of the north shore of Anegada, a low-lying island in the northern Caribbean. Both historical reports and the geological record underline its vulnerability to tsunami and hurricanes. In this study we document the sedimentary characteristics of a coral-rubble ridge, which extends discontinuously along 1.5–1.8 km of chiefly north-facing shores at Soldier Wash. The ridge is less distinctive and appears only in patches along the west-facing shoreline at Windless Bight, where the wave regime is calmer. It is located ca. 8 m from the fair-weather shore, has a maximum width of 15 m and a maximum thickness of 0.8 m. The lower seaward-facing slope of the ridge is relatively flat, probably due to successive reworking, whereas the upper seaward slope is steep and partly displays avalanching faces. The landward flank is gently sloping and terminates abruptly. The ridge is mainly composed of well-rounded, encrusted and bored coral rubble (average diameter of 16 cm) that has been reworked in the shallow marine environment prior to transport. Only a few pieces of angular beach rock and karstified Pleistocene limestone are incorporated. The components build a clast-supported framework. No sand is present in the interstices. Imbrication of flat clasts indicates a deposition during landward bed load transport. The ridge morphology, composition and related hydrodynamic conditions during its emplacement are typical for coral-rubble ridges deposited by hurricane-induced storm surges. In comparison, nearby evidence for tsunami inundation is very different because the tsunami-transported coral boulders on Anegada are much bigger (2 m) than the biggest components in the ridge, they are deposited much farther inland (up to 1.5 km), and the corals seem to have been freshly broken out of the reef by the tsunami.

The age of the ridge is difficult to estimate. The dark grey surface of the ridge is caused by bioweathering by endolithic organisms that takes tens of years and may give a very rough estimate of the minimum age of the ridge.

Storms and related surges that built the ridge were likely stronger than 2010 hurricane Earl, which attained category 4 north of the island. Earl was able to slightly rework the lower seaward part of the ridge, but transported only few and smaller pieces of coral rubble and sand onshore. Therefore, the coral-rubble ridge found at the north shore of Anegada may imply that the island is vulnerable to hurricane-induced surges of greater impact (in relation to storm path and intensity) compared with the any of the recently documented storms which were only able to rework the ridge.