Bottom currents, contourites and deep-sea sediment drifts: current state-of-the-art
Published:January 01, 2002
Dorrik A. V. Stow, Jean-Claude Faugères, John A. Howe, Carol J. Pudsey, Adriano R. Viana, 2002. "Bottom currents, contourites and deep-sea sediment drifts: current state-of-the-art", Deep-Water Contourite Systems: Modern Drifts and Ancient Series, Seismic and Sedimentary Characteristics, D. A. V. Stow, C. J. Pudsey, J. A. Howe, J.-C. Faugères, A. R. Viana
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This paper provides both an introduction to and summary for the Atlas of Contourite Systems that has been compiled as part of the International Geological Correlation Project – IGCP 432. Following the seminal works of George Wust on the physical oceanography of bottom currents, and Charley Hollister on contourite sediments, a series of significant advances have been made over the past few decades. While accepting that ideas and terms must remain flexible as our knowledge base continues to increase, we present a consensus view on terminology and definitions of bottom currents, contourites and drifts. Both thermohaline and wind-driven circulation, influenced by Coriolis Force and molded by topography, contribute to the oceanic system of bottom currents. These semi-permanent currents show significant variability in time and space, marked by periodic benthic storm events in areas of high surface kinetic energy.
Six different drift types are recognized in the ocean basins and margins at depths greater than about 300 m: (i) contourite sheet drifts; (ii) elongate mounded drifts; (iii) channel related drifts; (iv) confined drifts; (v) infill drifts; and (vi) modified drift-turbidite systems. In addition to this overall geometry, their chief seismic characteristics include: a uniform reflector pattern that reflects long-term stability, drift-wide erosional discontinuities caused by periodic changes in bottom current regime, and stacked broadly lenticular seismic depositional units showing oblique to downcurrent migration. At a smaller scale, a variety of seismic facies can be recognized that are here related to bottom current intensity. A model for seismic facies cyclicity (alternating transparent/reflector zones) is further elaborated, and linked to bottom current/climate change. Both erosional features and depositional bedforms are diagnostic of bottom current systems and velocities.
Many different contourite facies are now known to exist, encompassing all compositional types. We propose here a Cl–5 notation for the standard contourite facies sequence, which can be interpreted in terms of fluctuation in bottom current velocity and/or sediment supply. Several proxies can be utilized to decode contourite successions in terms of current fluctuation. Gravel lag and shale chip contourites, as well as erosional discontinuities are indicative of still greater velocities. There are a small but growing number of land-based examples of fossil contourites, based on careful analysis using the recommended three-stage approach to interpretation. Debate still surrounds the recognition and interpretation of bottom current reworked turbidites.
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Deep-Water Contourite Systems: Modern Drifts and Ancient Series, Seismic and Sedimentary Characteristics
Countourites are a widespread but poorly known group of sediments linked to the action of powerful bottom currents in deep water. Although we know they are especially common along continental margins and through oceanic gateways, they have been surrounded by contoversy since they were first recognized in the early 1960s. Where correctly recognized and decoded they can provide one of the keys to our better understanding of bottom water circulation and of the ocean–climate link. They are part of the spectrum of deposits that confronts the oil industry as exploration moves into progressively greater water depths.
This memoir is an important outcome of the International Geological Correlation Project 432 on Bottom Currents, Contourites and Palaeocirculation. It includes 30 papers involving over 75 key scientists from around the world. Following an introductory state–of–the–art paper by the editors, there are 25 separate case studies on modern drifts and four on ancient contourite series. Each contribution highlights the specific geological and oceanographic setting, bathymetry, physiographic and stratigraphic context, seismic attributes and sedimentary characteristics of that drift. Case studies range from some of the well-documented North Atlantic drifts to those much less known from the Mediterrenean, from important syntheses of the Gulf of Cadiz and Vema Channel Gateway, to completely new data on South Atlantic, Pacific and Antartic margin systems. The four papers on ancient series from Japan, China and Cyprus serve to emphasise the complex nature and subtle characteristics of contourites, which make their identification a scientific challenge.
This volume is dedicated to the memory of Charlie Hollister (1936–1999), one of the founding fathers and pioneers of countourite research.