Sediment waves are common in confined to unconfined settings on modern marine slopes and basin floors worldwide. Their morphology and stratal patterns show that many of them migrate upslope and upflow, a characteristic thought to record Froude-supercritical flow conditions associated with sediment gravity flows and density cascades. Few sediment waves of this type have been observed in the ancient rock record. This study reports the discovery of a giant (over 20,000 km2) sediment-wave field in Lower Mississippian carbonates and shales of the Fort Payne Formation in Tennessee and Kentucky. Sediment waves are present in the clinothem slopes and basin floor of a distally steepened ramp as seismic-scale bedforms ranging from 100 to 700 m long and 15-50 m high. Dominant facies include crinoidal shales, packstones, and rudstones. Many of the beds are sharp-based and graded, indicating sediment-gravity-flow deposition. Upslope-inclined rudstones (backsets) and wavy beds with upflow and downflow laminae are common and indicate supercritical flow conditions. These observations and interpretations are in stark contrast to previous interpretations of crinoidal bioherms and Waulsortian-type mounds. Basin physiography, a cool-water heterozoan carbonate factory and coastal upwelling were key factors in establishing a rapidly prograding ramp characterized by high rates of sediment production and basinward shedding. Sediment gravity flows and density cascades transported crinoidal grains downslope and entrained crinoids that inhabited the slope. Flows frequently reached Fr-supercritical flow conditions that led to the formation of sediment waves similar to those in modern marine slopes. This sediment-wave field is one of the first to be documented in the ancient rock record, and its extent is enormous. The near absence of other reported ancient examples must be due to misinterpretation (mounds, slumps) and the problem of observational scale and resolution. Sediment waves are often larger than outcrops. Lack of recognition of sediment waves in subsurface seismic sections is probably due to misinterpretation and the insufficient resolution. Perhaps this study demonstrates the need for revisiting and updating existing facies models of carbonate-sediment transport and depositional processes across slopes and basin floors.

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