Over the past two decades, the increased availability of three-dimensional (3-D) seismic data and their integration with outcrop and numerical modeling studies have enabled the architectural evolution of submarine channels to be studied in detail. While tectonic activity is a recognized control on submarine channel morphology, the temporal and spatial complexity associated with these systems means submarine channel behavior over extended time periods, and the ways in which processes scale and translate into time-integrated sedimentary architecture, remain poorly understood. For example, tectonically driven changes in slope morphology may locally enhance or diminish a channel's ability to incise, aggrade, and migrate laterally, changing channel kinematics and the distribution of composite architectures. Here, we combined seismic techniques with the concept of stratigraphic mobility to quantify how gravity-driven deformation influenced the stratigraphic architecture of two submarine channels, from the fundamental architectural unit, a channel element, to channel complex scale, on the Niger Delta slope.
From a 3-D, time-migrated, seismic-reflection volume, we evaluated the evolution of widths, depths, sinuosities, curvatures, and stratigraphic mobilities at fixed intervals downslope as the channel complexes interacted with a range of gravity-driven structures. At channel element scale, sinuosity and bend amplitude were consistently elevated over structured reaches of the slope, displaying a nonlinear increase in length, perpendicular to flow direction. At channel complex scale, the same locations, updip of structure, correlated to an increase in channel complex width and aspect ratio. Normalized complex dimensions and complex-averaged stratigraphic mobilities showed lateral migration to be the dominant form of stratigraphic preservation in these locations. Our results explain the intricate relationship between the planform characteristics of channel elements and the cross-sectional dimensions of the channel complex. We show how channel element processes and kinematics translate to form higher-order stratigraphic bodies, and we demonstrate how tectonically driven changes in slope develop channel complexes with distinct cross-sectional and planform architectures.