Geo-Marine Letters

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 135–144 | Cite as

Character, distribution, and ecological significance of storm wave-induced scour in Rhode Island Sound, USA

  • Katherine Y. McMullenEmail author
  • Lawrence J. Poppe
  • Castle E. Parker


Multibeam bathymetry, collected during NOAA hydrographic surveys in 2008 and 2009, is coupled with USGS data from sampling and photographic stations to map the seabed morphology and composition of Rhode Island Sound along the US Atlantic coast, and to provide information on sediment transport and benthic habitats. Patchworks of scour depressions cover large areas on seaward-facing slopes and bathymetric highs in the sound. These depressions average 0.5–0.8 m deep and occur in water depths reaching as much as 42 m. They have relatively steep well-defined sides and coarser-grained floors, and vary strongly in shape, size, and configuration. Some individual scour depressions have apparently expanded to combine with adjacent depressions, forming larger eroded areas that commonly contain outliers of the original seafloor sediments. Where cobbles and scattered boulders are present on the depression floors, the muddy Holocene sands have been completely removed and the winnowed relict Pleistocene deposits exposed. Low tidal-current velocities and the lack of obstacle marks suggest that bidirectional tidal currents alone are not capable of forming these features. These depressions are formed and maintained under high-energy shelf conditions owing to repetitive cyclic loading imposed by high-amplitude, long-period, storm-driven waves that reduce the effective shear strength of the sediment, cause resuspension, and expose the suspended sediments to erosion by wind-driven and tidal currents. Because epifauna dominate on gravel floors of the depressions and infauna are prevalent in the finer-grained Holocene deposits, it is concluded that the resultant close juxtaposition of silty sand-, sand-, and gravel-dependent communities promotes regional faunal complexity. These findings expand on earlier interpretations, documenting how storm wave-induced scour produces sorted bedforms that control much of the benthic geologic and biologic diversity in Rhode Island Sound.


Bedforms Sand Wave Multibeam Bathymetry Multibeam Data Bathymetric High 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank the officers and crew of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, who collected the bathymetric datasets, Seth Ackerman and Bill Danforth (USGS) for assistance with data processing, and Brad Butman and Harley Knebel for their helpful discussions. This work was supported by the Coastal and Marine Geology Program of the U.S. Geological Survey and the Atlantic Hydrographic Branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This manuscript has benefited from critical internal reviews by Bill Schwab and Soupy Dalyander (both USGS), and external reviews by Bryan Oakley, Ralph Lewis and an anonymous reviewer. The use of commercial names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the USGS or NOAA.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (outside the USA) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine Y. McMullen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lawrence J. Poppe
    • 1
  • Castle E. Parker
    • 2
  1. 1.U.S. Geological Survey, Coastal and Marine Science CenterWoods HoleUSA
  2. 2.Atlantic Hydrographic Branch, National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationNorfolkUSA

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