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The northern margin of the Gulf of Cadiz is swept by Mediterranean Outflow Water between about 500 and 1000 m water depth. This warm, saline, thermohaline, bottom current attains velocities in excess of 1 m s−1 through the narrow and relatively shallow Gibraltar gateway, and then descends and slows as it moves towards the north and west around the Iberian margin. It was established in its present form in the latest Miocene, following tectonic re-opening of the Gibraltar gateway, and has since helped to sculpt the slope region in conjunction with downslope processes and diapiric intrusion. The principal area of contourite deposition, up to 600 m in thickness, is the Faro–Albufeira drift complex in a mid-slope setting some 30 km south of Faro. This comprises an elongate low-mounded drift (Faro–Albufeira) and adjacent broad sheeted drifts (Faro and Bartolomeu Dias Planaltos), flanked and partly dissected by deep, erosional, bottom-current channels and buried channels. The seismic character is one of progradational-aggradational depositional units with laterally extensive sub-parallel reflectors, widespread discontinuities and a large-scale cyclicity in seismic facies. The upper 10 m of cored section comprises muddy, silty and sandy contourites of mixed terrigenous and biogenic composition, that show small-scale cyclicity in grain size and associated sedimentary features. Rates of accumulation varied from < 1 to 14.5 cm ka−1 (cores), and 3.5 to 29.5 cm ka−1 (seismics). The large and small-scale cyclicity noted can be related to fluctuation in bottom current velocity related to climate and sea-level changes, although the precise correlation between these events remains uncertain.

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