Stratigraphic architectures are fundamentally controlled by the interplay at different temporal and spatial scales of accommodation and sediment supply, modulated by autogenic responses of the sediment routing system and its constituent segments. The flux and caliber of sediment supply is a function of climate, catchment area, and tectonics in the source regions, and unraveling these forcing mechanisms from the observed stratigraphic architecture remains a key research challenge. The mid-to-late Eocene Escanilla sediment routing system had its source regions in the south-central Pyrenean orogen, northern Spain, and transported sediment from wedge-top basins along tectonic strike to marine depocenters. By constructing a volumetric budget of the sedimentary system, it has been demonstrated that there were marked changes in the grain-size distribution released from the sediment sources and also in the position of the gravel front, across three ∼ 2.6 Myr time intervals from 41.6 to 33.9 Ma. Classical sequence stratigraphic interpretations would relate the movement of depositional boundaries such as the gravel front to changes of base level, either in isolation or in combination with sediment supply. Herein, we explore the possibility that the position of the gravel front was primarily driven by variability of grain-size distributions released from the source regions as a result of changes in catchment uplift rate and/or surface run-off.
Using a simple model of sediment transport that captures first-order processes, we simulate the lateral movement of gravel deposition in the proximal part of the Escanilla sediment-routing system. Movement of the gravel front is a function of both accommodation generation and the transport capacity of the sediment routing system. We assume that the transport capacity is a linear function of the local slope and the water flux. By assuming that the observed thickness of deposits is equivalent to the accommodation available during deposition, we then use the stratigraphic architecture to constrain the change in catchment size and water flux over the three time intervals of the Escanilla paleo–sediment-routing system. Multiple scenarios are investigated in order to find the most plausible tectonic and climatic history. Model results indicate that during the mid-Eocene there was an increase in catchment length and sediment flux, most likely driven by tectonic uplift in the Pyrenean orogen. Subsequent marked progradation of the gravel front during the late Eocene was the consequence of reduced transport capacity due to a reduction in surface run-off. The latter model result is in agreement with records of pollen taxa that indicate increased climatic aridity in the late Eocene. The combination of a sediment transport model with a full sediment budget makes it possible to test the non-uniqueness of these results.