Evolution of turbidity currents deduced from extensive thin turbidites: Marnoso Arenacea Formation (Miocene), Italian Apennines

P J Talling, Lawrence Amy, R B Wynn, G Blackbourn, O Gibson

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    Previous work has shown that large-volume (> 100 km3) turbidity currents are capable of depositing extensive (> 100 km) turbidites in non-channelized settings. This study of the Miocene Marnoso Arenacea Formation demonstrates that smaller-volume (< ~ 0.5 km3) turbidites can also be remarkably extensive. Some thin (< 40 cm) turbidites extend for 120 by 30 km within this non-channelized sequence. Flows that produced these thin turbidites were capable of traversing the basin plain in opposing directions, despite being too weak to cause significant substrate erosion. Some flows traveled upslope for at least 60 km. Long run-out distances result from the relatively large fraction of fine particles in these highly efficient flows.

    Sandstone intervals thin in an approximately exponential fashion, across the proximal 20 to 30 km of outcrop. Similar sandstone shapes are observed for flows that traversed the basin plain in opposite directions. This sandstone shape is a generic property of spatially depletive flows; it is consistently reproduced by laboratory and numerical models in which velocity, sediment concentration, and deposition rates decrease down-flow. Rates of sandstone thinning are orders of magnitude smaller than those observed in deposits from laboratory experiments. This discrepancy primarily reflects a low ratio of flow thickness to sediment settling velocity, and low rates of sediment suspension from the bed, for slower-moving laboratory flows. The distal part of the thin-bed sandstone interval is thinner (< 5 cm) and more tabular. Starved ripples suggest that this distal tabular sandstone shape results partly from bedload reworking.

    The thickest turbidite mudstone occurs in the same two locations, for flows that traveled across the basin in opposite directions. This suggests that substantial volumes of muddy fluid ponded within bathymetric lows. Abrupt lateral termination of two mudstone beds, which have a distinctly tabular shape, suggests that certain mudstone intervals were deposited by dense fluid mud layers rather than expanded turbulent suspensions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)172-196
    Number of pages25
    JournalJournal of Sedimentary Research
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


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