Abstract:

Mudstone-dominated marine successions are common in the geological record, yet a full understanding of their depositional processes is often hampered by a lack of generally accepted diagnostic criteria to distinguish between hemipelagic settling and deposition from a flowing medium. The Marnoso Arenacea Formation, a turbidite unit of Miocene age cropping out in the northern Apennines of Italy, offers the possibility to address some of these uncertainties. A relatively small (∼ 10%) but distinctive portion of the Marnoso Arenacea Formation is composed of white marlstone beds (WM beds) that have frequently been interpreted as due to hemipelagic settling of fine-grained particles (hemipelagites). The analysis of the anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility (AMS) revealed the presence in the WM beds of maximum susceptibility axes clustered within the depositional plane along the average paleoflow direction inferred from flute casts at the bases of the nearest turbidite beds, whereas the minimum susceptibility axes are oriented perpendicular to the bedding plane. This fabric is interpreted as largely sedimentary in origin (albeit a contribution from tectonic shortening cannot be excluded) and due to the alignment within the bedding plane of paramagnetic grains (e.g., muscovite) and possibly also ferromagnetic grains (magnetite) under low-velocity currents. The trend of the maximum susceptibility axes, and hence of the paleoflow direction, is approximately oriented NNW–SSE after correction for Apennines thrust-sheet rotation since the Miocene. These results suggest that the WM beds cannot be entirely due to hemipelagic settling, as often stated in the literature. A discussion of alternative depositional mechanisms leads us to conclude that the WM beds may have been deposited under the influence of contour currents and should therefore be referred to as muddy contourites.

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