Analyses of 3-D seismic data in predominantly basin-floor settings offshore Indonesia, Nigeria, and the Gulf of Mexico, reveal the extensive presence of gravity-flow depositional elements. Five key elements were observed: (1) turbidity-flow leveed channels, (2) channel-overbank sediment waves and levees, (3) frontal splays or distributary-channel complexes, (4) crevasse-splay complexes, and (5) debris-flow channels, lobes, and sheets. Each depositional element displays a unique morphology and seismic expression. The reservoir architecture of each of these depositional elements is a function of the interaction between sedimentary process, sea-floor morphology, and sediment grain-size distribution.
(1) Turbidity-flow leveed-channel widths range from greater than 3 km to less than 200 m. Sinuosity ranges from moderate to high, and channel meanders in most instances migrate down-system. The high-amplitude reflection character that commonly characterizes these features suggests the presence of sand within the channels. In some instances, high-sinuosity channels are associated with (2) channel-overbank sediment-wave development in proximal overbank levee settings, especially in association with outer channel bends. These sediment waves reach heights of 20 m and spacings of 2-3 km. The crests of these sediment waves are oriented normal to the inferred transport direction of turbidity flows, and the waves have migrated in an up-flow direction. Channel-margin levee thickness decreases systematically down-system. Where levee thickness can no longer be resolved seismically, high-sinuosity channels feed (3) frontal splays or low-sinuosity, distributary-channel complexes. Low-sinuosity distributary-channel complexes are expressed as lobate sheets up to 5-10 km wide and tens of kilometers long that extend to the distal edges of these systems. They likely comprise sheet-like sandstone units consisting of shallow channelized and associated sand-rich overbank deposits. Also observed are (4) crevasse-splay deposits, which form as a result of the breaching of levees, commonly at channel bends. Similar to frontal splays, but smaller in size, these deposits commonly are characterized by sheet-like turbidites. (5) Debris-flow deposits comprise low-sinuosity channel fills, narrow elongate lobes, and sheets and are characterized seismically by contorted, chaotic, low-amplitude reflection patterns. These deposits commonly overlie striated or grooved pavements that can be up to tens of kilometers long, 15 m deep, and 25 m wide. Where flows are unconfined, striation patterns suggest that divergent flow is common. Debris-flow deposits extend as far basinward as turbidites, and individual debris-flow units can reach 80 m in thickness and commonly are marked by steep edges. Transparent to chaotic seismic reflection character suggest that these deposits are mud-rich.
Stratigraphically, deep-water basin-floor successions commonly are characterized by mass-transport deposits at the base, overlain by turbidite frontal-splay deposits and subsequently by leveed-channel deposits. Capping this succession is another mass-transport unit ultimately overlain and draped by condensed-section deposits. This succession can be related to a cycle of relative sea-level change and associated events at the corresponding shelf edge. Commonly, deposition of a deep-water sequence is initiated with the onset of relative sea-level fall and ends with subsequent rapid relative sea-level rise.