Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Albert C. Hine, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Christopher G. Smith, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ping Wang, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David J. Mallinson, Ph.D.


Leeuwin Current, Gulf of Mexico, Pliocene, sea level, Holocene, Australia


The aim of paleoenvironmental studies is to reconstruct characteristics of the past environment from fossil assemblages preserved in sedimentary strata. Thus, studies of modern surface assemblages, quantitatively correlated to the environmental parameters, are required before reliable interpretations can be made. For this dissertation, two different techniques were applied in two case studies: a reconstruction making use of a benthic foraminiferal transfer function from the intertidal marshes in the eastern Mississippi Sound, Alabama/Mississippi, and a qualitative reconstruction of ocean current activity on the Western Australian shelf.

Modern salt-marsh foraminifera were collected from Grand Bay, Pascagoula, Fowl River, and Dauphin Island across several elevation transects and different salinity regimes. Cluster analysis yielded nine dead biofacies and five live assemblages from Open Estuarine to Upland Transition. Canonical correspondence analysis indicated a strong relationship between distributions of dead biofacies and elevation. Both dissolution of calcareous species in the organic marsh sediment and the long-term accumulative nature of the dead assemblage favored the use of non-estuarine dead assemblages. A Weighted Average-Partial Least Squared transfer function was applied to the surface data and yielded a Root Mean Squared Error of Prediction (RMSEP) of 0.14 m, which represents 33% Mean Range of Tide at Grand Bay and 39% at Dauphin Island. The transfer function was applied to two sedimentary cores from Grand Bay and two from Dauphin Island, which revealed disparate developments between the regions during the last 1,900 years. While both Dauphin Island cores indicated relative sea-level trends aligned with other Gulf of Mexico studies, Grand Bay was likely impacted by a river avulsion event disconnecting Grand Bay from fluvial sediment influx, and by the erosion of a protective headland, Grand Batture Island. Sediments spanning the last ~100 years contained increased abundances of low marsh foraminifera likely associated with coastline erosion, which was most prominently displayed by a lithology shift towards grey silt in the Dauphin Island cores.

Surface carbonate sediments from Western Australia’s Northwestern Shelf and Carnarvon Ramp were collected from 127–264 m water depth. Foraminiferal assemblages changed between 127 m and 145–264 m due to rapidly decreasing water temperature in the thermocline, and loss of sufficient light for support of “larger” benthic foraminifera. Latitudinal differences were likely caused by three factors: (1) limited influence of the warm Leeuwin Current to support tropical taxa at the sampled depths, (2) reduced habitat diversity on the narrow Carnarvon Ramp compared to surrounding shelves, and (3) differing water-mass characteristics. The gathered information was used to interpret the assemblages from a Carnarvon Ramp core (total depth 300 m), providing insight into the activity of the warm, surficial Leeuwin Current for the last 3.54 My (Pliocene). Abundant infaunal taxa were inferred to indicate low oxygenation, increased supply of organic matter, and high sea-surface productivity during the absence of the Leeuwin Current above the coring site. Dominance of epifaunal species signified higher oxygenation at the sediment-water interface when upwelling of nutrient-rich waters was effectively suppressed by the Leeuwin Current. Around 1.14 Ma, waning of hypoxic conditions was initiated until a more substantial change was marked at 0.91 Ma. Suspension-feeding sponges became common sediment constituents during a Leeuwin Current flow optimum at ~0.6 Ma. The epifaunal taxa dominance persisted on the modern shelf, yet short episodes of infaunal peaks were likely caused by lateral shifts and fluctuating influence of the Leeuwin Current during more intense glacial cycles.

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