Mass-transport events are virtually ubiquitous on the modern continental slope and are also frequent in the stratigraphic record, but the potential they create for stratigraphic trapping within the sea-floor topography is not generally appreciated. Given the abundance of mass-transport deposits (MTDs), we should expect that many turbidite systems are so affected. The MTDs may be very large (volumes > 103 km3 [∼250 mi3], areas > 104 km2 [∼6250 mi2], thicknesses > 102 m [∼330 ft]), and they extensively remold sea-floor topography on the continental slope and rise. Turbidity currents are highly sensitive to topography; thus, turbidite reservoir distribution and geometry on the slope and rise are often significantly affected by subjacent MTDs or their slide scars. Turbidites may be captured within slide scars and on the trailing edges, margins, and rugose upper surfaces of MTDs; developed in accommodation when the mass movement comes to rest; or subsequently resulting from compaction or creep. The filling of such accommodation depends on the properties of the turbidity currents, their depositional gradient, and how they interact with basin floor topography. The scale of accommodation on top of MTDs is determined largely by the dynamics of the initial mass flow and internal structure of the final deposit, and it typically has a limited range of length scales. We present interpretations of a range of previously published and original case studies to illustrate the range of accommodation styles associated with MTD-related topography within the evacuated space of the slide scar, around and on top of the deposits themselves. In fact, several well-known deep-water outcrops probably represent examples of sedimentation influenced by MTDs.
Hydrocarbon reservoirs in many slope settings may be controlled by the accommodation related to MTD topography. At the exploration scale, entire shelf margin and slope depositional systems may be contained within the scars evacuated on the upper slope by mass failure, whereas at the production scale, the rugosity on the top of MTDs creates widespread potential for stratigraphic trapping. The location, geometry, and property distribution of such reservoirs are closely controlled by the interaction of turbidity currents with the topography; thus, an understanding of these processes and their impact on slope stratigraphy is vital to reservoir prediction.
The work summarized in this paper was supported under a succession of joint industry projects between 2002 and 2012 by Anadarko, BG, BP, BHP Billiton, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, DONG, GDF Suez, Hess, Maersk, Marathon, Murphy, Petrobras, Statoil, Woodside, Hess, Petrobras, Total, StatoilHydro, and RWE Dea. We thank BG, BHP Billiton, Shell, and Western Geco for use of seismic data, and we thank Gianluca Badalini, Vanessa Kertznus, Sacha Tremblay, Laura Faulkenberry, Matteo Molinaro, and Katerina Garyfalou for use of unpublished data and interpretations. We also acknowledge valuable discussion with many colleagues, particularly Vanessa Kertznus, Bryan Cronin, and Mike Mayall, and we thank reviewers Gwladys Guillot, Tim McHargue, Lorena Moscardelli, and AAPG Editor Mike Sweet, whose constructive reviews were much appreciated.