Abstract

The Cerro Toro Formation in the Torres del Paine National Park, southern Chile, contains a series of deep-water channel complexes deposited in an elongate Andean foreland basin during the Late Cretaceous. This stratigraphic interval represents an essentially continuous depositional record of migrating, leveed-channel complexes. Collectively, the channel-fill units in the study area form a belt approximately 5 km (3 mi) wide and several hundred meters thick. Within the study area, four sets of channel complexes are identified. This paper focuses on the best exposed of these channel-complex sets (channel-complex set 3). The channels are filled by bedded conglomerate and amalgamated sandstones interpreted to represent the deposits of high-concentration turbidity currents and debris flows. Large-scale cross-beds in some of the conglomerates indicate significant bed-load transport of gravel- and cobble-forming bars in the channels. Channel axis to margin facies changes between clast-supported conglomerate and either (1) thick-bedded sandstone or (2) matrix-supported conglomerate are observed. Channel-fill facies lie on erosional surfaces that cut into adjacent interchannel facies. Beds thin and onlap these surfaces toward the channel margins. Shale or siltstone drapes of the channel cuts are uncommon and laterally discontinuous. Bed continuity between channel and adjacent, interchannel facies is not observed. The interchannel strata are interpreted to represent levee successions that bound the channels. Stratigraphy in the levee units is defined to include (1) basal, sandy lobe deposits comprised of medium- to thick-bedded turbidites and (2) overbank facies consisting primarily of packages of fining- and thinning-upward, fine-grained, thin-bedded turbidites. This vertical succession is transitional. Distal levee facies include mudstones with thin-bedded, laterally continuous sandstones. Proximal levee facies include mudstones with both thin- and thick-bedded sandstones; however, the thick-bedded sandstones have lower lateral continuity. The proximal levee facies have a higher sandstone percentage than the distal levee, but also have greater depositional and postdepositional complexity, with sand-filled crevasses, erosional truncation, and slumped beds. Field observations suggest that these leveed channels formed in stages that are represented by depositional and/or erosional events. In chronological order, these are (1) an initial stage of relatively unconfined, sand-rich deposition; (2) aggradation of a mud-rich, confining levee system resulting from overbank deposition as turbidity flows bypass the area; (3) erosion as the channel becomes entrenched or as the channel migrates; and (4) filling of the channel-margin relief by onlap of channel-fill sediments. These stages appear to have repeated several times during the formation of a series of channel complexes. In these ways, the Cerro Toro Formation appears analogous to leveed-channel systems observed in late Pleistocene submarine fans and subsurface examples.

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