Mediterranean bottom-current deposits: An example from the Southwestern Adriatic Margin
Giuseppe Verdicchio, Fabio Trincardi, Alessandra Asioli, 2007. "Mediterranean bottom-current deposits: An example from the Southwestern Adriatic Margin", Economic and Palaeoceanographic Significance of Contourite Deposits, A. R. Viana, M. Rebesco
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The identification of bottom-current deposits is a key to understanding the long-term deep-sea circulation and its changes through geological times. The Southwestern Adriatic Margin (SAM) is a small Mediterranean sub-basin that represents a key site to study bottom-current deposits in a Mediterranean context and hence to improve our knowledge of changes in Mediterranean deep-water circulation during the recent geological past. The SAM is characterized by complex stratification and circulation related to an interaction between two south-flowing bottom water masses: the cold North Adriatic Dense Water (NAdDW), formed in the shallow northern Adriatic through cold wind forcing and winter heat loss, and the highly saline Levantine Intermediate Water (LIW), generated in the Eastern Mediterranean through intense evaporation and flowing along the slope in a depth range of 200–600 m. Chirp-sonar profiles, TOBI mosaics and sediment cores acquired along the SAM reveal distinctive sediment drift types (elongated, plastered and isolated drifts) and extensive fields of sediment waves. Non-depositional and erosional features related to bottom-current activity include moats between drifts and the steep slope, widespread upper-slope erosional areas and extensive furrowed areas, which are particularly developed where change in slope orientation blocks the current circulation. The distribution, morphology and size of bottom-current features along the SAM result from an interaction between current regime and slope morphology, characterized by structural highs perpendicular to the slope contour (e.g. Dauno Seamount), multiple slope incisions (e.g. Bari Canyon and slump scars) and extensive block-slide deposits. Morphobathymetric and seismic stratigraphic data on the SAM show that bottom-current deposits are best developed where the regional slope flattens seaward of a very steep, often erosional, upper slope. The roughness of the lower slope, in particular, seems to correlate with the complexity and decreasing size of the bottom-current deposits. Like other land-locked basins, the Adriatic underwent dramatic palaeogeographical and palaeoceanographic rearrangements during the Late Quaternary sea-level oscillations. Indeed, during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), most of the areas where NAdDW is formed today were subaerially exposed. Concurrently, during glacial times the LIW production was probably reduced compared with the present-day conditions. The SAM slope is a key site to study the impact of changing current regime on late Quaternary slope deposits. Other Mediterranean late Quaternary contourite deposits are either in water depths compatible with the LIW, particularly in the case of shallow sill basins (e.g. Sicily, Corsica Channel), or at the slope base reflecting the flow of Mediterranean deep waters. The SAM bottom-current deposits, instead, seems to record the changing interaction between two distinctive bottom-hugging currents along the same pathway.
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There has lately been a growth in the number and level of studies of contourite deposits. Most recent studies of contourites have two major lines of interest. One, propelled by the oil industry's continuous move into increasingly deep waters, concerns their economic significance. The other involves the stratigraphic/palaeoceanographic record of ocean circulation changes imprinted on contourite deposits that can be a key to understanding better the climate-ocean connection. The application of many different theoretical, experimental and empirical resources provided by geophysics, sedimentology, geochemistry, petrology, scale modeling and field geology are used in the 16 papers of this volume, proposing answers to those two main aspects. The papers are subdivided into two major categories (economic interest and stratigraphic/palaeoceanographic significance), with case studies ranging from well-documented drifts to new examples of modern and fossil series, involving a large diversity of geographic and physiographic scenarios worldwide.