A study of seismic-reflection profiles and sediment cores establishes regional bathymetric and source area control over the composition, transport, and distribution of turbidites in the eastern Muertos Trough. Bioclastic (carbonate) turbidites dominate the eastern portion of the trough. Analyses of carbonate content and sand-sized components suggest that the bioclastic turbidites (characterized by planktonic foraminifera, pteropods, and sponge spicules) are reworked pelagic oozes originally deposited on the outer-shelf and upper-slope areas south of St. Croix and eastern Puerto Rico. The presence of several intrashelf and upper-slope basins prohibits shallow-water carbonate sediments from entering the Muertos Trough.
Volcanic rock fragments derived from Puerto Rico are transported to the trough via the Guayanilla Canyon system. Mixing of the volcanic fragments with outer-shelf and upper-slope lutites results in mixed bioclastic-terrigenous turbidites south of central and western Puerto Rico. The paucity of shallow-water carbonate sediments in the trough suggests that the submarine canyons are effective conduits for the “rapid” transport of volcaniclastic sands across the shelf and thereby prevent extensive mixing with inner- and middle-shelf carbonate sediments.
Sediment transport within the trough is primarily axial in an east-west direction. Outer trench-wall fault scarps, south of Guayanilla Canyon, limit the southerly progradation of the trench-wedge facies and deflect incoming gravity flows in a down-axis (westward) direction. Where no faults exist, the trench wedge progrades southward and interfingers with the pelagic sediments of the northern Venezuelan basin.