Management and restoration of the Mississippi River deltaic plain (southern United States) and associated wetlands require a quantitative understanding of sediment delivery during large flood events, past and present. Here, we investigate the sedimentary fingerprint of the 2011 Mississippi River flood across the Louisiana coast (Atchafalaya Delta, Terrebonne, Barataria, and Mississippi River Delta basins) to assess spatial patterns of sedimentation and to identify key indicators of sediment provenance. The sediment deposited in wetlands during the 2011 flood was distinguished from earlier deposits based on biological characteristics, primarily absence of plant roots and increased presence of centric (planktonic) diatoms indicative of riverine origin. By comparison, the lithological (bulk density, organic matter content, and grain size) and chemical (stable carbon isotopes of bulk organic matter) properties of flood sediments were nearly identical to the underlying deposit. Flood sediment deposition was greatest in wetlands near the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers and accounted for a substantial portion (37% to 85%) of the annual accretion measured at nearby monitoring stations. The amount of sediment delivered to those basins (1.1–1.6 g cm−2) was comparable to that reported previously for hurricane sedimentation along the Louisiana coast (0.8–2.1 g cm−2). Our findings not only provide insight into how large-scale river floods influence wetland sedimentation, they lay the groundwork for identifying previous flood events in the stratigraphic record.
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