Textural characteristics and facies of sand-rich contourite depositional systems

Rachel Brackenridge, Dorrik A. V. Stow, F.J. Hernández-Molina, Claudia Jones, Anxo Mena, Irene Alejo, Emmanuelle Ducassou, Estefania Llave, Gemma Ercilla, Miguel Angel Nombela, Marta Perez-Arlucea, Gillermo Frances

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


This work presents a detailed study of CONTOURIBER and Integrated Ocean Drilling Program 339 sediment data targeting sand‐rich contourites in the Eastern Gulf of Cadiz. All of the collected sediments are interpreted as contourites (deposited or reworked by bottom currents) on the basis of oceanographic setting, seismic and morphometric features, and facies characteristics. A variety of sandy and associated facies are found across the study area including: (i) bioturbated muddy contourites; (ii) mottled silty contourites; (iii) very fine mottled and fine‐grained bioturbated sandy contourites; (iv) massive and laminated sandy contourites; and (v) coarse sandy/gravel contourites. The thickest sands occur within contourite channels and there is a marked reduction in sand content laterally away from channels. Complementary to the facies descriptions, grain‐size analysis of 675 samples reveals distinctive trends in textural properties linked to depositional processes under the action of bottom currents. The finest muddy contourites (<20 μm) show normal grain‐size distributions, poor to very poor sorting, and zero or low skewness. These are deposited by settling from weak bottom currents with a fine suspension load. Muddy to fine sandy contourites (20 to 200 μm) trend towards better sorting and initially finer and then coarser skew. These are typical depositional trends for contourites. As current velocity and carrying capacity increase, more of the finest fraction remains in suspension and bedload transport becomes more important. Clean sandy contourites (>200 μm) are better sorted. They result from the action of dominant bedload transport and winnowing at high current speeds. The results highlight the importance of bottom current velocity, sediment supply and bioturbational mixing in controlling contourite facies. Despite growing interest in their hydrocarbon exploration potential, contourite sands have remained poorly understood. This research therefore has important implications for developing current understanding of these deposits and aiding the correct interpretation of deep marine sands and depositional processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2223-2252
Number of pages30
Issue number7
Early online date12 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Research Funding
Spanish Ciencia y Tecnologías Marinas projects. Grant Numbers: CTM 2012‐39599‐C03, CGL2016‐80445‐R, CTM2016‐75129‐C3‐1‐R


  • contourites
  • deep-water sands
  • grain size
  • Gulf of Cadiz
  • sediment facies model


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