ABSTRACT

Arroyo San Fernando, on the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico, provides a superb view of the architecture of a Maastrichtian active margin slope channel system and the record of its evolution through a third-order sea-level cycle. The succession is organized into architectural building blocks (channel-complex sets) consisting of a channel belt with an axial region and a channel-belt margin of terraces and internal levees. The channel belt is confined by an external levee on one side and by an erosion surface into the slope on the other. Each channel-complex set can be subdivided into three stages of evolution: Stage I consists of highly amalgamated coarse-grained channel complexes, Stage II consists of gravelly meander belts with marginal and stratigraphically intervening thin-bedded turbidites, and Stage III consists of mudstones representing abandonment. This succession is associated with repeated and therefore predictable changes in architecture, facies distribution, inferred seafloor morphology, and sedimentary process. We describe variability in the sedimentology, ichnology, palynology, provenance, and inferred sedimentary processes between and within these architectural elements. Channel formation and fill are attributed to erosion, sediment transport, and deposition by turbidity currents and lesser debris flows. Ichnology indicates enhanced oxygenation and supply of organic material, substrate type, and turbidity within the channel belt; the axial region can be differentiated from the terraces by differing response to turbidity-current intensity. Levee environments show ichnological gradients away from the channel towards background slope. Palynology reflects confinement of the supply of terrigenous material to the channel belt, but is also indicative of stratification within the turbidity-currents, as is the distribution of heavy minerals. Provenance is from the extinct part of the continental-margin arc to the east, via high-gradient gravelly streams and across a steep shoreline, with direct supply of coastal material to deep water. Architectural hierarchy bears comparison with other slope channel systems, but in common with them the fill represents only a small fraction of the time that the system was active.

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