Abstract

Cross-sectional asymmetry is characteristic of sinuous channels in both fluvial and submarine settings. Less well documented are the facies distributions of asymmetric channels, particularly in submarine settings. Exposures of the axial submarine channel-belt in the Magallanes retro-arc foreland basin on Sierra del Toro represent the fill of a 3.5 km wide, 300 m thick channel complex, here termed the “Wildcat,” that displays an asymmetric cross section and facies distribution. Measured sections and mapping demonstrate that facies proportion, degree of amalgamation, and margin architecture vary laterally from east to west across the Wildcat channel complex. The eastern side is characterized by thick-bedded, amalgamated sandstone and clast- and matrix-supported conglomerate that onlap a steep, simple margin adjacent to sandy overbank deposits. The western side contains thin-bedded, sandy and muddy strata that onlap a shallow composite margin adjacent to mud-rich out-of-channel strata.

The observed asymmetry is likely due to centrifugal flow forces and was caused by a low-sinuosity right-hand meander bend of the Cerro Toro axial channel-belt. The facies and architecture of the opposing margins indicate that the eastern and western sides constitute the outer and inner bends of the Wildcat channel complex, respectively. The modest cross-sectional asymmetry of the Wildcat complex is likely a product of the low channel-belt sinuosity. The absence of lateral accretion surfaces and deposits suggests that the channel did not migrate during filling. Flows depositing the uppermost channel fill were only weakly confined, resulting in flow divergence and overbank deposition.

A depositional model that incorporates the asymmetric facies distributions and the contrasting outer-bend and inner-bend architecture of the Wildcat channel complex is also presented. Similar facies distributions exist in other low-sinuosity submarine channels, and even more extreme facies and cross-sectional asymmetry probably characterize more highly sinuous channels. Data on facies distributions presented here represents a useful resource for constraining numerical and experimental models of the evolution of sinuous submarine channels as well as reservoir models of sinuous submarine channels.

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