Icehouse continental-shelf-margin accretion is typically driven by high-sediment-supply deltas and repeated glacio-eustatic, climate-driven sea-level changes on a ca. 100 ky time scale. The paleo–Orinoco margin is no exception to this, as the paleo–Orinoco River Delta with its high sediment load prograded across Venezuela, then into the Southern and Columbus basins of Trinidad since the late Miocene, depositing a continental-margin sedimentary prism that is > 12 km thick, 200 km wide, and 500 km along dip.
The Cruse Formation (> 800 m thick; 3 My duration) records the first arrival of the paleo–Orinoco Delta into the Trinidad area. It then accreted eastwards, outwards onto the Atlantic margin, by shallow to deepwater clinoform increments since the late Miocene and is capped by a major, thick flooding interval (the Lower Forest Clay). Previous research has provided an understanding of the paleo–Orinoco Delta depositional system at seismic and outcrop scales, but a clinoform framework detailing proximal to distal reaches through the main fairway of the Southern Basin has never been built. We integrate data from 58 wells and outcrop observations to present a 3-D illustration of 15 mapped Cruse clinoforms, in order to understand the changing character of the first Orinoco clastic wedge on Trinidad. The clinoforms have an undecompacted average height of 550 m, estimated continental slope of 2.5° tapering to 1°, and a distance from shelf edge to near-base of slope of > 10 km. The clinoform framework shows trajectory changes from strong shelf-margin progradation (C10–C13) to aggradation (C14–C20) and to renewed progradation (C21–24). Cruse margin progradational phases illustrate oblique clinothem geometries that lack well-developed topsets but contain up to 70 m (200 ft) thick, deepwater slope channels. This suggests a high supply of sediment during periods of repeated icehouse rise and fall of eustatic sea level, with fall outpacing subsidence rates at times, and delivery of sand to the deepwater region of the embryonic Columbus channel region. Also, evidence of wholesale shelf-edge collapse and canyon features seen in outcrop strongly suggest that deepwater conduits for sediment dispersal and bypass surfaces for Cruse basin-floor fans do exist. The change to a topset aggradational pattern with a rising shelf trajectory may be linked to increased subsidence associated with eastward migration of the Caribbean plate. The Cruse-margin topsets were dominated by mixed fluvial–wave delta lobes that were effective in delivery of sands to the basin floor. The preservation of a fluvial regime of the delta may have been impacted by basin geometry which partly sheltered the area from the open Atlantic wave energy at the shelf edge. Ultimately, understanding shelf-edge migration style as well as process-regime changes during cross-shelf transits of the delta will help to predict the location of bypassed sands and their delivery to deepwater areas.