The late Pleistocene Po River lowstand wedge in the Adriatic Sea: Controls on architecture variability and sediment partitioning

Claudio Pellegrini* (Corresponding Author), Alessandra Asioli, Kevin M. Bohacs, Tina M. Drexler, Howard R. Feldman, Michael L. Sweet, Vittorio Maselli, Marzia Rovere, Fabiano Gamberi, Giacomo Dalla Valle, Fabio Trincardi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Although facies and stratal geometries of continental margin successions can be defined in detail based on subsurface and outcrop studies, most studies lack the high-resolution age control needed to constrain the time scale of formation of such successions and infer their external forcing mechanisms. Our work on the Po River Lowstand Wedge (PRLW) indicates that deposition rates are surprisingly high with the entire 350-m-thick succession being deposited in less than 17,000 years, and with individual clinothems recording time periods ranging from 400 to 4700 years. The PRLW preserves a high-resolution record of stacked, deltaic shelf-edge clinothems deposited during the Last Glacial Maximum (31.8–14.4 ky BP) in the Adriatic basin (Mediterranean Sea). We investigated clinothem internal geometry, stacking patterns, and facies distributions to infer the main controls on their growth by integrating seismic reflection data with seismic facies attributes and paleoenvironmental proxies. The stratigraphic framework of the shelf-edge clinothems was then related to major paleoenvironmental shifts during the last glacial cycle and driven by eustatic and climatic changes. Within the PRLW, we recognized three distinctive types of 100's-m-high shelf-edge clinothems, type A, type B and type C, each with diagnostic topset geometries, shelf-edge trajectories, and associated distal basin-fill deposits. These elemental clinothem types stack into two Clinothem Sets. Clinothem Set 1, with essentially flat to slightly descending shelf-edge trajectory, is composed of stacked types A and B clinothems, and records the direct influence of river flux leading to dysoxic conditions on the bottom of the basin. In particular, clinothem accumulation rates were as much as 200 km3/ky in some of the type B clinothems. Clinothem Set 2, showing ascending shelf-edge trajectory, records an aggradational stacking coupled with a retreat of the river-entry points with benthic fauna assemblages that reflect the influence of peaks in freshwater discharge. Whereas Clinothem Set 1 developed under perturbations of river supply linked to the multi-scale waxing and waning of glaciers during an interval dominated by eustatic fall, Clinothem Set 2 reflects the main thawing of glaciers concomitant to the first phase of the eustatic rise. From a sequence stratigraphic perspective, Clinothem Set 1 is interpreted as staked high-frequency sequences, while Clinothem Set 2 represents a stack of high-frequency parasequences. The high-resolution age control from boreholes and seismic data enabled us to relate stratal character to independently constrained environmental proxies: this revealed how the evolution of a shelf-edge system intricately convolves the influences of both global (eustacy) and regional (climate-driven supply fluctuations) controls, both at sub-Milankovitch scales. Finally, the thickness, geometry, and stacking patterns of the centennial to millennial clinothems of the PRLW vary in systematic ways resulting in geometries that closely resemble those of ancient shelf-edge systems, and offering the PRLW as a sub-modern analogue. Our observations also reinforce the focus of the classic sequence-stratigraphic approach on analyzing surfaces and their geometric relations and not on time duration or formation mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-50
Number of pages35
JournalMarine and Petroleum Geology
Early online date7 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

The authors dedicate this study to their colleague Giovanni Bortoluzzi, who passed away in 2015. A special tanks is due to Marco Ligi and Nevio Zitellini for geophysical data acquisition and processing; Marco Pastore and Filippo D'Oriano for their support during the cruise LSD2014 and processing of geophysical data. Elisabetta Campiani provided additional support for processing the multibeam bathymetry. A particular thank goes to Cpt. Emanuele Gentile and the crew of the R/V Urania during cruise LSD 2014. We thank Ronald Steel and an anonymous Reviewer for their constructive comments. This project was funded by ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company and by the Flagship Project RITMARE–The Italian Research for the Sea. We acknowledge the European Union Project PROMESS-1 (contract EVR1-2001-41) for borehole PRAD 1-2. This is ISMAR-CNR contribution number 1959.


  • Climate change effects
  • Clinoform
  • Continental margin evolution
  • Last glacial maximum
  • Paleoenvironmental reconstruction
  • Quaternary geology
  • Sea level changes
  • Sediment partitioning and prediction
  • Sequence stratigraphy


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