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The term “turbidite system” was introduced at the COMFAN of 1982 (Bouma et al., 1985) to avoid confusion between modern depositional systems characterized by a fan-shaped plan-view geometry and ancient depositional systems whose plan-view geometry is generally difficult to determine. Despite the many attempts in this direction, defining a turbidite system remains difficult and largely depends upon the set of data available and the approach taken.

Mutti (1985) and Mutti and Normark (1987, 1991) have suggested that the fill of turbidite basins can be sub-divided into hierarchically-ordered units which, from the largest to the smallest, include turbidite complex, system, stage and sub-stage (Fig. 16). Taking this approach, an ancient turbidite system is considered as a mappable stratigraphic unit composed of genetically linked facies associations recording a major foresteppingbackstepping episode of basinal turbidite sand deposition. Although systems may differ considerably from each other, these authors also suggested that turbidite systems can be essentially viewed as composed of three basic and intergradational types which are shown in Fig. 17.

Distinctive facies associations and erosional surfaces define mappable elements that record the main transfer and depositional zones of submarine sediment gravity flows within each system. Large-scale submarine erosional features and channels are the characteristic transfer zones of turbidite systems; laterally extensive sandstone lobes and associated basin-plain deposits represent the depositional zones of these systems. Along basin margins, thick wedges of slope mudstones with thin-bedded and fine-grained turbidites form the link between basinal turbidite deposition and fluvio-deltaic systems formed in shelfal and nearshore regions (see later).

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