The southern Weddell Sea: combined contourite–turbidite sedimentation at the southeastern margin of the Weddell Gyre
Published:January 01, 2002
K. H. Michels, G. Kuhn, C.-D. Hillenbrand, B. Diekmann, D. K. Fütterer, H. Grobe, G. Uenzelmann-Neben, 2002. "The southern Weddell Sea: combined contourite–turbidite sedimentation at the southeastern margin of the Weddell Gyre", 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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Sedimentary processes in the southeastern Weddell Sea are influenced by glacial-interglacial ice-shelf dynamics and the cyclonic circulation of the Weddell Gyre, which affects all water masses down to the sea floor. Significantly increased sedimentation rates occur during glacial stages, when ice sheets advance to the shelf edge and trigger gravitational sediment transport to the deep sea. Downslope transport on the Crary Fan and off Dronning Maud and Coats Land is channelized into three huge channel systems, which originate on the eastern, the central and the western Crary Fan. They gradually turn from a northerly direction eastward until they follow a course parallel to the continental slope. All channels show strongly asymmetric cross sections with well-developed levees on their northwestern sides, forming wedge-shaped sediment bodies. They level off very gently. Levees on the southeastern sides are small, if present at all. This characteristic morphology likely results from the process of combined turbidite-contourite deposition. Strong thermohaline currents of the Weddell Gyre entrain particles from turbidity-current suspensions, which flow down the channels, and carry them westward out of the channel where they settle on a surface gently dipping away from the channel. These sediments are intercalated with overbank deposits of high-energy and high-volume turbidity currents, which preferentially flood the left of the channels (looking downchannel) as a result of Coriolis force. In the distal setting of the easternmost channel-levee complex, where thermohaline currents are directed northeastward as a result of a recirculation of water masses from the Enderby Basin, the setting and the internal structures of a wedge-shaped sediment body indicate a contourite drift rather than a channel levee. Dating of the sediments reveals that the levees in their present form started to develop with a late Miocene cooling event, which caused an expansion of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and an invigoration of thermohaline current activity.
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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.