A high sinuosity, laterally migrating submarine fan channel-levee-overbank: results from DSDP Leg 96 on the Mississippi Fan, Gulf of Mexico

Kevin Pickering, James Coleman, Michel Cremer, Laurence Droz, Barry Kohl, William Normark, Suzanne O'Connell, Dorrik Stow, Audrey Meyer-Wright

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21 Citations (Scopus)


DSDP Leg 96 drilled four sites in a channel-levee-overbank system on the Mississippi Fan, Gulf of Mexico, approximately 300 km from the present Mississippi River Delta in water depths of about 2500 m (Sites 617, 620, 621 and 622). Apart from the uppermost 20–25 cm of Holocene marly foraminiferal ooze in most of the drilled sites, the entire cored intervals are in the Pleistocene Ericson Y Zone. Eight sedimentary facies are recognized: (1) biogenic oozes and muddy oozes; (2) calcareous muds; (3) clays and muds; (4) silty muds and muddy silts; (5) silt-laminated muds; (6) silts and sands; (7) muddy gravels and pebbly muds, and (8) gravels. Sediment accumulation rates on this part of the fan during the Wisconsin glaciation were as much as 11 m/1000 yrs, although most of the sediments probably accumulated from discrete, geologically instantaneous events. Site 621 and Site 622 are located within a prominent channel, Site 617 on an adjacent levee, and Site 620 in overbank deposits approximately 18 km northeast from the channel sites. In this part of the fan, there is one prominent high sinuosity channel, asymmetric in cross section and flanked by levees with probable ridge-and-swale topography. Near these drill sites, the channel width is 3–4 km and its bathymetric relief ranges from 25–45 m. Downfan, the dimensions of the channel decrease. Site 617 (to 191.2 m sub-bottom) and Site 620 (to 422.7 m sub-bottom) mainly comprise fine-grained, thin-bedded turbidites, with Site 617 tending to be slightly coarser grained and showing considerably more evidence of wet-sediment deformation. Site 621 (to 214.8 m sub-bottom), in the channel axis near the deepest part of a meander, contains mainly muds with a downhole increase in the silt content above 195 m sub-bottom, where pebbly muds overlie clean gravel that was obviously washed during core-retrieval and probably was a sandy gravel or gravelly sand. Site 622 (to 208 m sub-bottom) shows similar lithologies to Site 621 although the sediments generally contain more silt, and towards the base of the hole become thoroughly laminated silts and sandy silts: pebbles within muds and silts occur at 199 m sub-bottom. Based on overall grain size trends over tens of metres, the channel sites show ill-defined fining-upward sequences, whereas the levee and overbank sites show coarsening-upward sequences, although the upper part of Site 617 is a fining-upward sequence. Biogenic components of sediments at the channel sites are dominated by shallow-water benthic foraminifera derived from the continental shelf, with the coarser grained clastic intervals containing reworked late Cretaceous planktonic foraminifera and radiolaria from the Upper Mississippi River Valley. The levee and overbank sites have a larger percentage of Quaternary radiolaria, pelagic algal cysts, and more planktonic foraminifera than the channel sites. Seismic reflection profiles across this most recent fan channel show high-amplitude reflectors in the lower part of the channel fill, thought to correspond to the coarsest grained channel lag deposits. Isopach maps show that the lag deposits are up to 6.5 km wide, slightly more than 200 m thick, and that the northernmost meander belt has migrated about 2 km laterally, 1.2 km downfan, and has climbed 175 m stratigraphically (Kastens and Shor, 1985; Sterling et al., 1985). Evolution of the meander belt shows features common to point-bar migration in high sinuosity fluviatile systems. While the location of Sites 617, 620, 621 and 622 have been drilled within a middle fan environment, the width/depth ratios and the fact that this channel is a single conduit in this part of the fan, perhaps suggest a more appropriate comparison with many inner or upper fan environments that have been described in the literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-18
Number of pages16
JournalMarine and Petroleum Geology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1986


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