How and when sediment moves from shallow marine to deep-water environments is an important and poorly understood control on basin-scale sediment dispersal patterns, the evolution of continental margins, and hydrocarbon exploration in deep-water basins. The Golo River (Eastern Corsica, France), its delta, canyons, and fans provide a unique opportunity to study sediment routing from source to sink in a relatively compact depositional system. We studied this system using an array of high-frequency seismic data, multi-beam bathymetry, and five cores for lithology and age control.

Movement of sediment to deep water was controlled by interactions between the Golo River, the Golo Delta, and shelf-penetrating submarine canyons. Sediment moved to deep water when lobes of the Golo Delta prograded to the heads of these canyons, or when the Golo River itself flowed directly into one of them. Sand accumulated in canyons, deep-water channels, and submarine fans during glacial periods of low sea level, while mud was deposited throughout the slope, in the relatively short reach of leveed-confined channels, and in the mud-rich fringes around the sandy fans. During interglacial periods of high sea level, the basin was blanketed by mud-rich deposits up to 10 m thick interbedded with distinctive carbonate-rich sediments. Deposition rates in the basin ranged from 0.07 m/ka to 0.59 m/ka over the last 450 ka. Mud deposition rates remained relatively constant at ∼0.16 m/ka during all time periods, while sand deposition only happened during glacial periods of low sea level with an average rate of 0.24 m/ka.

In addition to sea-level controls on sediment delivery, avulsions of the Golo River and its deltaic lobes preferentially routed sediment down either the North or South Golo canyons. Thus, while the larger, sequence-scale architecture of the basin is controlled by allogenic sea level forcing, millennial-scale autogenic processes operating on the shelf and in deep water shaped the distribution of sand and mud, and the internal geometry of the deltas and submarine fans that they fed. While some aspects of the Golo system are characteristic of steep, tectonically active margins, others such as the nature of connections between rivers and shelf-penetrating submarine canyons are observed in most margins with active submarine fans regardless of their tectonic setting.

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