Turbidites, which have accumulated in Lake Mead since completion of the Hoover Dam in 1935, have been mapped using high-resolution seismic and coring techniques. This lake is an exceptional natural laboratory for studying fine-grained turbidite systems in complex topographic settings. The lake comprises four relatively broad basins separated by narrow canyons, and turbidity currents run the full length of the lake. The mean grain size of turbidites is mostly coarse silt, and the sand content decreases from 11–30% in beds in the easternmost basin nearest the source to 3–14% in the central basins to 1–2% in the most distal basin. Regionally, the seismic amplitude mimics the core results and decreases away from the source. The facies and morphology of the sediment surface varies between basins and suggests a regional progression from higher-energy and possibly channelized flows in the easternmost basin to unchannelized flows in the central two basins to unchannelized flows that are ponded by the Hoover Dam in the westernmost basin. At the local scale, turbidites are nearly flat-lying in the central two basins, but here the morphology of the basin walls strongly affects the distribution of facies. One of the two basins is relatively narrow, and in sinuous sections reflection amplitude increases toward the outsides of meanders. Where a narrow canyon debouches into a broad basin, reflection amplitude decreases radially away from the canyon mouth and forms a fan-like deposit. The fine-grained nature of the turbidites in the most distal basin and the fact that reflections drape the underlying pre-impoundment surface suggest ponding here. The progression from ponding in the most distal basin to possibly channelized flows in the most proximal basin shows in plan view a progression similar to the stratigraphic progression documented in several minibasins in the Gulf of Mexico.

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