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Impacts Of Human Activity On The Late-Holocene Development Of The Subaqueous Yangtze Delta, China, As Shown By Magnetic Properties And Sediment Accumulation Rates

Zhanghua Wang, Maotian Li, Ruihu Zhang, Chencheng Zhuang, Yan Liu, Yoshiki Saito, Jianlei Xie, Baocheng Zhao

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Development of the Yangtze delta during the late Holocene, and its relationship to human activities in the drainage basin, was analyzed using data from 16 cores collected from distributaries to the prodelta. We used AMS 14C dating and digital elevation model (DEM) data from marine charts from 1864 through 2005 to determine ages and estimate sediment accumulation rates. The results demonstrate that the latest major subaqueous delta front formed within the past c. 0.8 cal. ka and features remarkably high accumulation rates (1—4 cm/yr) in comparison with those of previous delta fronts. We also examined the temporal distribution of grain size and magnetic susceptibility in all 16 cores. Results show soil-derived superparamagnetic (SP) minerals generally occur, and even dominate, in the recent ( c. 1.7 cal. ka) Yangtze delta fine-grained sediment, as shown by high values of frequency-dependent magnetic susceptibility (both χFD and χFD%). Rock-derived magnetite dominates generally in the river channel and delta front sand bodies as a result of hydrodynamic sorting, but is also enriched in both fine and coarse-grained sediment formed more recently ( c. 0.8 cal. ka), as evidenced by rising values of mass specific magnetic susceptibility (χLF). SP grains were deposited as early as the late Neolithic, possibly indicating local deforestation associated with the use of fire at that time. We suggest major deforestation in the drainage basin started c. 1.7 cal. ka BP, and intensified after c. 0.8 cal. ka BP when both χLF and χFD show the highest values. We therefore conclude that upland deforestation and cultivation as a result of the migration of human populations from northern China since c. 1.7 cal. ka BP resulted in increased sediment discharge of the Yangtze and played an important role in recent delta construction.