Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Engineering and Applied Science


Earth and Environmental Sciences

Major Professor

Penland, P. Shea

Second Advisor

Kulp, Mark A.

Third Advisor

Allison, Mead

Fourth Advisor

Grieshaber, John

Fifth Advisor

O'Connell, Martin

Sixth Advisor

Holladay, Kenneth


Earlier researchers have produced conceptual models of Mississippi River delta plain development which divide the deltaic plain into upper and lower reaches. The upper deltaic plain has been described as an area composed mainly of lacustrine, lacustrine delta, backswamp, and crevasse channels, with minimal distributary development. The lower deltaic plain is characterized by numerous distributaries forming distributary systems and lobes. Detailed geomorphic mapping and chronologic reconstruction within the Atchafalaya Backwater Area of the upper deltaic plain of the Mississippi River has led to the recognition of a complex network of distributary development related to three distinct distributary systems that formed in the upper deltaic plain over the past 2500 years. These systems do not fit previous models of upper deltaic plain development. The East Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee blocked Atchafalaya River water and sediment from entering the study area and burying these older distributary systems, preserving their surface expression and allowing their identification. Results show that distributary systems can be a major contributor to upper deltaic plain development and that these systems are not always related to the lower delta plain delta switching process. A stable Mississippi River position and a favorable gradient in the study area over the past 4,000 years appear to be responsible for the geomorphic development of the study area.


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