Deep-marine depositional systems of the western North Atlantic: Insights into climate and passive-margin evolution

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Virginia Tech


Stratigraphic successions of sedimentary rocks represent an important repository for signals pertaining to the history and evolution of Earth. Whereas the specific processes reflected by the stratigraphic record differ with respect to a given depositional environment, deposits in deep-marine settings, particularly passive margins, provide a unique, long-term record of paleoclimate, paleoceanography, and tectonics affecting the basin in question. Whereas deep-marine strata may be used to answer myriad of questions regarding the evolution and development of Earth systems, this dissertation narrowly targets two distinct aspects of sedimentation in deep-sea settings. The first two chapters focus on the utility of sortable silt in reconstructing bottom-current intensity linked to major shifts in climate. First, the relationship of sortable silt to flow velocity was tested under controlled conditions in a flow-through flume. This chapter investigates the correlation of sortable silt metrics across several experimental parameters, which is found here to dispute longstanding assumptions that multiple metrics must correlate to infer sediment sorting by deep currents. Additionally, the results are compared to calibrations from natural settings, where the correlation between the two datasets is remarkably similar, validating the relationship of sortable silt with current velocity in the deep ocean. Chapter two leverages sortable silt to investigate the long-term evolution of the Deep Western Boundary Current in the North Atlantic, targeting contourite drifts offshore Newfoundland to investigate the Eocene-Oligocene Transition (EOT), the most recent global greenhouse-to-icehouse transition. Results suggest that the Deep Western Boundary Current intensified gradually from 35-26 Ma, not abruptly at the EOT, and change consistent with deepening of the Greenland-Scotland Ridge and enhanced overflow of deep water into the North Atlantic. Chapter three utilizes detrital zircon U-Pb dating to characterize source-to-sink pathways and linkages during the rift-to-drift transition, in the Early Cretaceous, along the U.S. mid-Atlantic passive margin. This work shows that onshore and offshore system segments were initially disconnected, and progressively integrated over the course of ~45 Myr. Taken together, this work demonstrates a focused yet powerful example of how deep-marine sedimentary systems can be leveraged to robustly model major changes throughout Earth history.



sedimentology, stratigraphy, deep-marine, sediment transport, sortable silt, paleoceanography, bottom currents, contourites, turbidites, source-to-sink, detrital zircons