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AP Dr.

David MENIER Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS

Why study ancient and present deltas ? Components of a delta Process of formation of a delta Delta classification Fluvial-dominated delta Mixed fluvial to wave-dominated Tide-dominated delta Wave-dominated delta

Most described ancient deltaic sequences are river-dominated systems (that are characterized by major coarsening-upward sequences many 10s m thick, from marine sediments perhaps limestones passing up into increasingly non-marine mudrocks sandstones and then coals). The deltaic sediments of the Carboniferous strata in W. Europe and E. USA are good examples contain important coal reserves.

The repetition of deltaic cycles in the Carboniferous may be due to: (a) compaction-induced subsidence, (b) tectonic subsidence, or (c) eustatic sea-level changes.
Deltaic sandstones are major oil reservoirs in some basins e.g. (1) the Middle Jurassic Brent Sands of the North Sea. (2) the Tertiary of the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana.

Northeast Holden Crater on Mars10-m resolution DEM of the Eberswalde Delta. Reds are topographic highs, and darker colors are topographic lows. The delta relief is about 60/80 m. To assist in interpretation, this image was generated by hand contouring of color satellite images guided by low-resolution altimetry data and higher-resolution altimetry of Aharonson and Lewis (CalTech). 5

Deltas of the SE Asia,

modified after Woodroffe 2000

From Ali Wahid, PhD

Deltas around Borneo island

Sabah Delta Sandakan Delta Baram Delta Rajang Delta

Sulu Sea

Tarakan Delta Balingian Delta

Mahakam Delta



Barito Delta

From Ali Wahid, PhD


An active delta consists of one or more river-mouth systems to which prodelta and delta front deposition are directly coupled, a distrubutary network, interdistributary and distrubutary-margin deposits, and a delta shoreline

Subaqueous component

Deltaic environments

Deltas form where a river enters into a standing body of water (ocean, sea, lake) and forms a thick deposit that may or may not form protuberances The delta plain is the subaerial part of a delta (gradational upstream to a floodplain); the delta front (delta slope and prodelta) is the subaqueous component Delta plains are commonly characterized by distributaries and flood basins (upper delta plain) or interdistributary bays (lower delta plain), as well as numerous crevasses plays Upper delta plains contain facies assemblages that are very similar to fluvial settings
EaES 350-9 10

Deltas develop where river systems debouch into the ocean, inland seas and lakes.
Their form is controlled by a number of factors, chief of which is the relative effectiveness of river discharge compared to the tidal and wave energies of the receiving basin.
- Sediment input - Wave energy -Tidal energy


When a stream flows into a large standing body of water, such as a lake, the stream water quickly loses velocity and the heaviest particles drop out, forming a coarse, steeply sloping layer. Most of the fine suspended load is carried farther out, eventually settling out to form a gently sloping, triangular deposit.


Sea level

Delta growth

Bottomset beds

Foreset beds

topset beds

According to classical concept, a delta is made up of topset, foreset and bottomset deposits

Seaward Marsh

Depositional surface

Delta front Silt & Sand

Prodelta silty clay

Time lines Offshore clay

Original depositional surface

During the grouwth of a delta, different environments migrate toward the sea

Abandoned delta Active prograding delta







Mississippi River (U.S.A)


Delta (distribury) channel

River channel


Inter-distributary bay


Norman River (Australia)


Tide-dominated deltas are characterised by relatively high tide energy at the mouth compared with wave energy, and are distinguished from tidedominated estuaries by high river energy. Tidal energy is greatest slightly landward of the mouth due to constriction by the funnel shaped mouth. Wave energy is dissipated on shoals seaward of the mouth, and declines rapidly landwards. River energy remains moderate to high along the channel, but drops off significantly as the channel widens towards the mouth.


Nil River (Egypt)


Wave-dominated deltas are characterised by relative high wave energy at the mouth compared to tide energy, and are distinguished from wave-dominated estuaries by high river energy. Total energy at the mouth is high because of high wave energy at the coast.
Total energy declines immediately landward of the mouth because wave energy is dissipated on the barrier. The dominance of river energy further landward means total energy is relatively high along the channel. Maximum tidal energy occurs in the constricted inlet mouth.

Mahakam delta (Indonesia)


From Storm et al; (2005). Sedimentary geology


Mixed Fluvial dominated classical delta +/- tidal influence

Fluvial dominated bird-foot delta (elongate)

Wave-dominated delta (cupside)

Tide-dominated delta


Deltaic environments

Delta morphology reflects the relative importance of fluvial, tidal, and wave processes, as well as gradient and sediment supply
River-dominated deltas occur in microtidal settings with limited wave

energy, where delta-lobe progradation is significant and redistribution of mouth bars is limited

Wave-dominated deltas are characterized by mouth bars reworked

into shore-parallel sand bodies and beaches

Tide-dominated deltas exhibit tidal mudflats and mouth bars that are

reworked into elongate sand bodies perpendicular to the shoreline

EaES 350-9


Mouth bars form at the upper edge of the delta front, at the mouth of distributaries; they are mostly sandy and tend to coarsen upwards
The delta slope is commonly 1-2 and consists of finer (usually silty) facies; the most distal prodelta is dominated by even finer sediment Progradation (basinward building) of deltas leads to coarseningupward successions, and progradation rates depend on sediment supply and basin bathymetry (water depth)


Deltaic environments

Coarse-grained deltas are composed of gravelly facies and form where alluvial fans or relatively steep braided rivers enter a water body Delta cycles are the result of repetitive switching of delta lobes, comparable to avulsion in fluvial environments; this leads to characteristic vertical successions with progradational facies and transgressive facies