The architecture and Quaternary history of the massive and highly structured Amazon Fan has been reconstructed using sediment recovered by Ocean Drilling Program Leg 155. Huge regional mass-transport deposits make up a significant component of the Amazon Fan. These massive mass-transport deposits each cover an area over 15 000 km2 (approximately the size of Jamaica), reach a maximum thickness of 200 m, and consist of ≈50 000 Gt of sediment. Analysis of both benthic foraminiferal fauna and the sediments indicates that the mass-transport deposits originated at a water depth of between 200 and 600 m on the continental slope, which is at least 200 km lateral to and 1500 m above their present position. Each mass-failure event was formed by the catastrophic failure of the continental slope and has been dated and correlated with climate-induced changes in sea level. Two different mechanisms initiated these catastrophic slumps: (1) Rapid drops in sea level destabilized continental slope gas hydrate reservoirs, causing slope failure and the glacial mass-transport deposits, and (2) deglaciation of the Andes and the consequent flushing of Amazon River sediment to the continental slope caused over-burdening and the deglacial mass-transport deposits.

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