Late Quaternary sedimentary record and Holocene channel avulsions of the Jamuna and Old Brahmaputra River valleys in the upper Bengal delta plain
The first Holocene stratigraphic record of river-channel occupation and switching between the Brahmaputra-Jamuna and Old Brahmaputra paleovalleys is presented here. Motivated by the Brahmaputra River's historic avulsion from the Old Brahmaputra channel to its present-day Jamuna course, we have obtained sediment and radiocarbon samples from 41 boreholes along a 120 km transect crossing these two braided-river valleys. The stratigraphy along this transect reveals sand-dominated Holocene channel systems, each bound by remnant, mud-capped Pleistocene stratigraphy. Using sediment lithology and bulk strontium concentration as a provenance indicator, we define the geometry and channel-occupation history of each paleovalley. The western Brahmaputra-Jamuna valley is broad and somewhat deeper compared with the Old Brahmaputra valley, the latter actually comprising a composite of two narrower sub-valleys bifurcated by an antecedent topographic remnant. The gently sloped valley margins (slope: 0.002 to 0.007) and high width-to-thickness ratio (W/T: ~ 1000) of the Brahmaputra-Jamuna valley suggest that it was filled primarily through lateral channel migration and the reworking of braidbelt and overbank deposits. Conversely, the two Old Brahmaputra sub-valleys have comparatively steeper valley margins (slope: 0.007 to 0.022) and lower width-to-thickness ratios (W/T: ~ 125 and ~ 250), indicating that these were filled primarily through vertical aggradation of channel sands. We attribute this disparity in valley geometry and fill processes to the different occupation histories for each valley. In this case, the much larger Brahmaputra-Jamuna valley represents the principal, if not singular, river course during the last lowstand of sea-level, with a prominent gravel lag underlying the valley. In contrast the smaller Old Brahmaputra valleys do not appear to have been present, or at least well developed, at the last lowstand. Rather these courses were first occupied during the early Holocene transgression, and we infer that the river had been previously excluded from this region by the relatively higher elevation between the Madhupur Terrace and the Shillong Massif. We also demonstrate that the Brahmaputra River experienced 3-4 major avulsions during the Holocene, with considerably longer occupation times within the principal Brahmaputra-Jamuna valley. Together these observations indicate that occupation history and antecedent topography have been important controls on river course mobility and avulsion behavior.