The effects of abrupt changes in slope angle and orientation on turbidity current behavior have been investigated in numerous physical and numerical experiments and examined in outcrop, subsurface, and modern systems. However, the long-term impact of subtle and evolving seabed topography on the stratigraphic architecture of deep-water systems requires fine-scale observations and extensive 3-D constraints. This study focuses on the Permian Laingsburg and Fort Brown formations, where multiple large sand-rich systems (Units A–F) have been mapped from entrenched slope valleys, through channel-levee systems, to basin-floor lobe complexes over a 2500 km2 area. Here, we investigate three thinner (typically <5 m in thickness) and less extensive sand-rich packages, Units A/B, B/C, and D/E, between the large-scale systems. Typically, these sand-rich units are sharp-based and topped, and contain scours and mudstone clast conglomerates that indicate deposition from high-energy turbidity currents. The mapped thickness and facies distribution suggest a lobate form. These distinctive units were deposited in similar spatial positions within the basin-fill and suggest similar accommodation patterns on the slope and basin floor prior to the larger systems (B, C, and E). Stratigraphically, these thin units represent the first sand deposition following major periods of shut-down in sediment supply, and are interpreted as marking a partial re-establishment of sand delivery pathways creating “disconnected lobes” that are fed mainly by flows sourced from failures on the shelf and upper slope rather than major feeder channel-levee systems.
Thickness and facies patterns throughout the deep-water stratigraphy suggest seabed topography was present early in the basin formation and maintained persistently in a similar area to ultimately form a stepped slope profile. The stepped slope profile evolved through three key stages of development: Phase 1, where sediment supply exceeds deformation rate (likely caused by differential subsidence); Phase 2, where sediment supply is on average equal to deformation rate; and Phase 3, where deformation rate outpaces sediment supply. This study demonstrates that smaller systems are a sensitive record of evolving seabed topography and they can consequently be used to recreate more accurate paleotopographic profiles.