Multi-scale deep-marine stratigraphic expressions in the Cretaceous Magallanes Basin, Chile: Implications for depositional architecture and basin evolution

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Submarine channel-levee systems represent one of the most significant features of sediment transfer on Earth and one of the final segments in source-to-sink routing systems. As such, they serve as conduits as well as intermediate or final storage for large volumes of sediment, paleoenvironmental signals, and pollutants on their way to the deep ocean. Over the years, these systems have been studied through a variety of methods, including: (i) outcropping analogs; (ii) seismic data, occasionally integrated with core analysis; (iii) numerical modeling and physical experiments, and more recently; (iv) repeated multibeam bathymetry and (v) direct measurement of sediment gravity flows. However, as we are able to show in this study, there are still questions about the inherent evolution of these systems that need to be addressed.

In this study, we focus on the sedimentary processes and depositional products of submarine channel-levee systems through the characterization, analysis and interpretation at different scales of outcropping analog systems of the Upper Cretaceous Tres Pasos and Cerro Toro Formations in the Magallanes-Austral Basin. In the first research-chapter, Chapter 2, we analyze the transition between laterally offset and vertically stacked channels on a previously undocumented, seismic-scale outcrop of the Tres Pasos Formation. This change in stacking pattern has been widely recognized in submarine channel systems, however, the stratigraphic and sedimentologic details and implications to general conceptual models have not been addressed in the past. Our observations indicate that in between these two depositional architecture styles there is a significant phase of erosion and bypass at a complex-scale (or larger) and that the relief achieved via this deep incision of one or multiple simultaneously active conduits was the necessary condition to promote flow stripping processes and associated overbank deposition. In addition, we discuss the presence of an unusual intra-channel lithofacies association observed directly overlying one of these incisions, which we interpret to represent the along-strike expression of bedforms associated with supercritical flow processes that are found in modern channels and some ancient channel-fill successions.

In the next research chapter, Chapter 3, we characterize a 500 m thick fine-grained dominated sedimentary succession interpreted as overbank deposits of the Cerro Toro Formation that have been affected by synsedimentary faulting and crosscut by an extensive injectite network. The scale of this outcrop allows us to resolve the relationship between sedimentary packages and structural features that are commonly overlooked or beyond the resolution of datasets derived from other sources by using high-resolution measurements and quantitative analysis at a cm scale. The orientation of synsedimentary normal faults, paleocurrent directions, and characteristics of 10-36 m thick sandstone-prone intervals suggest a model of overspilling turbidity currents (from the main axial channel belt to the west) on a large levee-slope that might share deformational mechanisms with other depositional slopes.

Finally, in Chapter 4, we use detrital zircon U-Pb geochronology to determine maximum depositional ages of seven sandstone samples attributed to the axial channel-belt of the Cerro Toro Formation and shallow-marine deposits of the Dorotea Formation, which extend the chronostratigraphic framework for Ultima Esperanza 55 km southward to help reduce the gap between field sites in the Ultima Esperanza and Magallanes provinces. Based on these new data, we hypothesize that the conglomeratic-rich deposits at this location, which have generally similar lithofacies and large-scale stratigraphic architecture to the Cerro Toro Formation, are unlikely to represent the southward extension of the well-studied axial channel belt deposits to the north, and therefore they potentially represent their own sediment routing system emanating from erosional catchments in the fold-thrust belt to the west. This chapter highlights the value of establishing a chronostratigraphic framework to reconstruct ancient paleogeography in addition to interpretation based purely on observable sedimentary parameters.

Magallanes Basin, submarine channels, deep-marine sedimentation, channel-levee systems