Along-slope oceanographic processes and sedimentary products around the Iberian margin

Francisco Javier Hernandez-Molina, Nuno Serra, Dorrik Stow, Estefania Llave, Gemma Ercilla, David Van Rooij

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    This contribution to this special volume represents the first attempt to comprehensively describe regional contourite (along-slope) processes and their sedimentary impacts around the Iberian margin, combining numerically simulated bottom currents with existing knowledge of contourite depositional and erosional features. The circulation of water masses is correlated with major contourite depositional systems (CDSs), and potential areas where new CDSs could be found are identified. Water-mass circulation leads to the development of along-slope currents which, in turn, generate contourite features comprising individual contourite drifts and erosional elements forming extensive, complex CDSs of considerable thickness in various geological settings. The regionally simulated bottom-current velocities reveal the strong impact of these water masses on the seafloor, especially in two principal areas: (1) the continental slopes of the Alboran Sea and the Atlantic Iberian margins, and (2) the abyssal plains in the Western Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic. Contourite processes at this scale are associated mainly with the Western Mediterranean Deep Water and the Levantine Intermediate Water in the Alboran Sea, and with both the Mediterranean Outflow Water and the Lower Deep Water in the Atlantic. Deep gateways are essential in controlling water-mass exchange between the abyssal plains, and thereby bottom-current velocities and pathways. Seamounts represent important obstacles for water-mass circulation, and high bottom-current velocities are predicted around their flanks, too. Based on these findings and those of a selected literature review, including less easily accessible "grey literature" such as theses and internal reports, it is clear that the role of bottom currents in shaping continental margins and abyssal plains has to date been generally underestimated, and that many may harbour contourite systems which still remain unexplored today. CDSs incorporate valuable sedimentary records of Iberian margin geological evolution, and further study seems promising in terms of not only stratigraphic, sedimentological, palaeoceanographic and palaeoclimatological research but also possible deep marine geohabitats and/or mineral and energy resources.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)315-341
    Number of pages27
    JournalGeo-Marine Letters
    Issue number5-6
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


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