Tertiary alluvial fans at the northern margin of the Ebro Basin: a review
Tertiary alluvial fan deposits along the margin of the Ebro foreland basin north of Huesca, Spain, are remarkable for the range of sedimentological and tectonic features preserved within them. The fan deposits formed after the southern Pyrenean thrust front (the Guarga Thrust) was established in this area, forming steep topography at the basin margin in the mid-Oligocene. Some shortening continued during deposition of the earliest fans resulting in synsedimentary faults, folds and unconformities. Clast compositions in the fan conglomerate beds record unroofing of the thrust front and also reveal differences in bedrock provenance between adjacent, coeval fan deposits. Bedrock provenance also influenced processes of deposition, with fans built up of detritus derived from areas rich in gypsum and mudrock showing more evidence of debris-flow processes. Deposition by debris flows also dominated the smallest fan body, but the majority of the fans were the products of sedimentation from unconfined or poorly confined traction currents. These resulted in sheets of conglomerate in the more proximal areas. Within individual fan bodies the proportion of sandstone increases over a distance of up to 5 km to where the distal fan facies are seen as thin sandstone and mudstone beds. The fringes of the fan bodies interfinger with lacustrine and fluvial facies, which indicate a temperate–semi-arid palaeoclimate. Vertical aggradation of the fan deposits due to rising base level in the Ebro Basin in the Oligocene and early Miocene was followed by deep incision following a late Miocene base level-fall. This led to the partial erosion of the fan deposits and their spectacular exposure in the modern landscape.
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Alluvial fans are important sedimentary environments. They trap sediment delivered from mountain source areas, and exert an important control on the delivery of sediment to downstream environments, to axial drainages and to sedimentary basins. They preserve a sensitive record of environmental change within the mountain source areas. Alluvial fan geomorphology and sedimentology reflect not only drainage basin size and geology, but change in response to tectonic, climatic and base-level controls. One of the challenges facing alluvial fan research is to resolve how these gross controls are reflected in alluvial fan dynamics and to apply the results of studies of modern fan processes and Quaternary fans to the understanding of sedimentary sequences in the rock record. This volume includes papers based on up-to-date research, and focuses on three themes: alluvial fan processes, dynamics of Quaternary alluvial fans and fan sedimentary sequences. Linking the papers is an emphasis on the controls of fan geomorphology, sedimentology and dynamics. This provides a basis for integration between geomorphological and sedimentological approaches, and an understanding how fluvial systems respond to tectonic, climatic and base-level changes.