Thin-bedded turbidites deposited by sediment gravity flows that spill from submarine channels often contain significant volumes of sand in laterally continuous beds. These can make up over 50% of the channel-belt fill volume, and can thus form commercially important hydrocarbon reservoirs. Thin-bedded turbidites can be deposited in environments that include levees and depositional terraces, which are distinguished on the basis of their external morphology and internal architecture. Levees have a distinctive wedge shaped morphology, thinning away from the channel, and confine both channels (internal levees) and channel-belts (external levees). Terraces are flat-lying features that are elevated above the active channel within a broad channel-belt. Despite the ubiquity of terraces and levees in modern submarine channel systems, the recognition of these environments in outcrop and in the subsurface is challenging. In this outcrop study of the Upper Cretaceous Rosario Formation (Baja California, Mexico), lateral transects based on multiple logged sections of thin-bedded turbidites reveal systematic differences in sandstone layer thicknesses, sandstone proportion, palaeocurrents, sedimentary structures and ichnology between channel-belt and external levee thin-bedded turbidites. Depositional terrace deposits have a larger standard deviation in sandstone layer thicknesses than external levees because they are topographically lower, and experience a wider range of turbidity current sizes overspilling from different parts of the channel-belt. The thickness of sandstone layers within external levees decreases away from the channel-belt while those in depositional terraces are less laterally variable. Depositional terrace environments of the channel-belt are characterized by high bioturbation intensities, and contain distinctive trace fossil assemblages, often dominated by ichnofabrics of the echinoid trace fossil Scolicia. These assemblages contrast with the lower bioturbation intensities that are recorded from external levee environments where Scolicia is typically absent. Multiple blocks of external levee material are observed in the depositional terrace area where the proximal part of the external levee has collapsed into the channel-belt; their presence characterizes the channel-belt boundary zone. The development of recognition criteria for different types of channel-related thin-bedded turbidites is critical for the interpretation of sedimentary environments both at outcrop and in the subsurface, which can reduce uncertainty during hydrocarbon field appraisal and development.
Bibliographical noteThe authors would like to acknowledge the support of the PRACSS Joint Industry Project at the University of Aberdeen, funded by BG Group, BP, DONG, RWE Dea, Petrochina, Statoil and Tullow Oil, which has allowed us to undertake this research. Our colleagues Pan Li, Amanda Santa Catharina, Guilherme Bozetti, Thisiane Dos Santos, Matheus Silveira Sobiesiak and Adam McArthur are thanked for their assistance during fieldwork and data collection. Thorough reviews by Sarah Southern and Jasper Knight greatly improved the structure and clarity of the manuscript, and their efforts are highly appreciated.
- Submarine channels
- Thin-bedded turbidites