Distribution and significance of heavy-mineral concentrations along the southeast Baltic Sea coast

TitleDistribution and significance of heavy-mineral concentrations along the southeast Baltic Sea coast
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsPupienis, D, Buynevich, IV, Bitinas, A
JournalJournal of Coastal Research
IssueSI 64

Heavy mineral concentrations (HMCs) in coastal sands are important from both scientific and practical standpoints. On one hand, they may serve as local sources of iron and other economically important metals, and on the other they are good indicators of hydro-meteorological and sedimentological conditions along the coast. A variety of HMC types have been documented in beach, foredune, and relict dune environments of Lithuania. The study region is located along the Curonian Spit (Nida) and mainland coast (Būtingė). The ocean beach sites range from 25 to 35 m in width and are backed by 5-10 m-high foredunes. The Great Dune Ridge on the Curonian Spit consists of relict (mid-late Holocene) dunes which are the highest coastal dunes in Northern Europe (more than 60 m above sea level). The prevailing westerly winds attain speeds of 4.2 m/s in the summer and 5.5 m/s in autumn and winter. Along the southeast Baltic Sea coast, quartz and feldspars-rich sands contain variable amounts (1-8%) of heavy minerals, such as garnet, rutile, zircon, magnetite, ilmenite, hornblende, and other accessory minerals. On the beach, HMCs typically range in thickness from 0.1 to more than 3.0 cm and represent increased wave and run-up regime. Based on previous studies of coastal morphodynamics and field observations during 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010 enriched horizons near the foot of the foredune are the result of storm reworking and subsequent aeolian deflation. Similar process concentrates almandine garnet and magnetite along the Curonian Lagoon shoreline, on the opposite side from the Nida beach site. Based on their occurrence in the Great Dune Ridge, we suggest that buried HMCs likely represent periods of increased wind activity (storminess). Due to their relatively high fraction of heavy minerals, HMCs have substantially higher magnetic susceptibility (MS) values than background quartz-rich sands and, where well developed, they can be used for spatial correlation of subsurface horizons. Therefore, the MS method was used as a tool for cataloguing the properties of HMCs in the field and in the laboratory. For documenting lithological differences between exposed heavy-mineral concentrations and background quartz-rich sands, this study focused on coastal environments with different sedimentary regimes: 1) surface profile and shallow trenches through the upper berm at Bating (wave run-up setting along the mainland shoreline); 2) a 40-m-long shore-normal beach profile at Nida on the Baltic Sea shoreline of the Curonian Spit, (mixed wave/aeolian conditions) and 3) a short surface profile along a lagoon beach at the base of the Paranidis Dune (the landward side of the spit). The 2008 and 2010 data were compared to previous studies of the HMCs in relict dunes (exclusively aeolian setting). The spatial and temporal distribution of HMCs in different sedimentary environments is a function of: 1) the initial heavy-mineral content prior to high-energy events and 2) hydro-meteorological and sedimentary conditions during the events responsible for removal of lighter minerals and HMC formation as a lag deposit. The thickness, degree of concentration, and rhythmicity of HMC horizons offer opportunities for quantifying the periodicity and intensity of hydrodynamic processes along sandy coasts.