My next post about the Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures is a park we visited back in the summer of 2002.
You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website Dinojim.com.
Back in 2002, my then girlfriend and I traveled to Assateague Island and hiked down the shoreline to camp along the beach. It was a beautiful place with tons of wild horses just roaming around.
Here is a view of the foredunes on Assateague Island, just behind the beach deposits. Assateague Island is a type of island known as a barrier island. There are multiple ways that barrier islands can form and the formation of Assateague Island, as well as the nearby Delmarva Peninsula are extremely geologically interesting. 35 million years ago, while sea levels were much higher along the east coast of the United States than they are today, the area of where the Chesapeake Bay intersects the Atlantic Ocean was impacted by a 2 to 3 mile wide meteorite, forming a crater as deep as the Grand Canyon and as large as Rhode Island. This impact produced a depression that impacted drainage patterns in the area as sea levels started to fall, eventually leading to the formation of the Chesapeake Bay.
Looking out into the Atlantic Ocean from the beach. Over the past 2 million years, the Delmarva Peninsula, which started as a spit (a sand bar projected into the water by ocean currents) had slowly been extending towards the south by the longshore drift. Longshore drift is the process by which waves hit a shoreline at an angle, pushing sediment up the shoreline at that angle. Then as the waves go back out to sea, they carry the sediment a little way out with them, only to be brought back in at that angle. Eventually this moves all the beach sediment slowly down the beach. If you have gone swimming in the ocean you have noticed this effect as you can often find yourself located significantly down the beach from where you first started. Here it moves from north to south, or left to right in the picture above.
Looking north along the beach. Longshore drift in this picture would be coming towards us. As sea levels fluctuate up and down, eventually beaches are formed and on those beaches dunes are created along the back edge of the beaches called the foredunes. These dunes form just above high tide by the wind blowing sand particles away from the shoreline. During the last Ice Age, the sea levels were extremely low due to the build up of the glaciers locking up much of the water. As we have slowly been coming out of the Ice Age, sea levels have slowly been rising. The foredunes that had formed during low sea levels have eventually been flooded out by rising water levels. These now drowned dunes, act as a nucleus for sand build up as waves traveling in from the oceans hit these submerged dunes and slow down, dropping much of the sediment they carried. Eventually the submerged dunes build up enough to break the surface and become beach deposits. These island beaches, called barrier islands, not only protect the shoreline from wave energy, breaking up the waves as they come in from the ocean, but also create protect waterways behind the islands like estuaries, lagoons, and marshes.
Another view of the foredunes, with enough vegetation on them to lock them in place from wind activity. But over time these newly formed barrier islands, continue to grow, shrink, and evolve depending on the wave activity, storm activity, and fluctuations in sea level. With sea levels constantly on the rise lately, Assateague Island is slowly being pushed landwards. This movement is both towards the south, by the longshore drift, and towards the west, by rising sea levels, resulting in the entire barrier island slowly converging with Chincoteague Island.