Anatomy of a submarine channel-levee: An example from Upper Cretaceous slope sediments, Rosario Formation, Baja California, Mexico

Ian A. Kane, Benjamin C. Kneller, Mason Dykstra, Ahmed Kassem, William D. McCaffrey

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141 Citations (Scopus)


To date, facies architecture models of submarine channel-levees have largely been derived from seismic data, isolated core data and limited field studies. We report field observations of an Upper Cretaceous submarine channel-levee complex within the Rosario Formation, Baja California, Mexico, which provide high-resolution data of lithofacies and ichnofacies distribution, and levee depositional thickness decay along transects perpendicular to the channel axis. Within the levee, both sandstone thickness and the overall proportion of sandstone decrease according to a power law away from the channel axis. Spatial variation in sedimentary structures away from the channel axis is predictable and provides an important link to the depositional flow regime. In channel-proximal locations, structureless sands, parallel lamination, overturned ripples, and ripple cross-lamination (including climbing ripple cross-lamination) are common; in channel-distal localities starved ripples are abundant. Sandstone bed thickness generally increases up stratigraphy within the levee succession, which is interpreted to indicate increasing turbidity current magnitude and/or contemporaneous channel floor aggradation reducing relative levee relief. However, in the most channel-proximal location sandstone bed thickness decreases with height; combined with evidence from both facies and palaeocurrent analysis this allows the position of the levee crest to be inferred. The thickest beds occur at higher levels with increasing distance from the channel axis, using this evidence we present a model for levee growth and migration of the crest.

Quantitative analysis of ichnofacies distribution reveals that traces typical of the Cruziana and Skolithos ichnofacies are superimposed over the 'normal' background Nereites ichnofacies, forming a 'bioturbation front' which is indicative of proximity to the channel. By analogy with modern canyons and channels, the association of Cruziana and Skolithos ichnofacies with the channel may be attributed to oxygen and nutrient enrichment and possible turbidity current transport of organisms responsible for these ichnofacies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)540-563
Number of pages24
JournalMarine and Petroleum Geology
Issue number6-9
Early online date27 Mar 2007
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2007

Bibliographical note

Ian Kane and Bill McCaffrey are funded (under the auspices of Phase 5 of the Turbidites Research Group) by a consortium of oil companies, including BG Group, BHP Billiton, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Kerr McGee, Maersk, Norsk Hydro, Shell and Statoil. Ben Kneller and Mason Dykstra acknowledge support from Anadarko Petroleum, Amerada-Hess, BG Group, BHP Billiton, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Maersk Oil, Marathon, Murphy Oil, Norsk-Hydro, Petrobras, Statoil, Total and Woodside. Ahmed Kassem acknowledges support from BP Egypt. We thank Margaret Pataki, Dylan Rood, Austin Zinsser, Julitta Kirkova-Pourciau, Doug Moore, and Stuart Burley for field-work in the early stages of this project. Constructive reviews by Dave Hodgson, Stan Stanbrook, and issue editor, Bryan Cronin, improved the manuscript, for which we are grateful.


  • submarine channel-levees
  • turbidity currents
  • Upper Cretaceous
  • Rosario Formation
  • ichnofacies


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