Abstract

Postglacial deposits of the Rhône shelf have been studied from high-resolution seismic data and Kullenberg piston cores. They are organised into a set of transgressive units or parasequences backstepping from the outer shelf to the subaerial deltaic plain. On the deltaic plain, they are overlain by the prograding deltaic parasequences deposited at the end of the Holocene sea level rise.

At regional scale, given the short time span covered by the late Quaternary deposits, tectonic subsidence has played a minor role and sediment deposition on the Rhône shelf was chiefly controlled by glacio-eustatic sea level changes (120 m between the maximum lowstand and present highstand). Progradational phases correspond to periods of reduced rate of eustatic sea level rise while the flooding surfaces bounding the regressive units form during periods of increasing rate of sea level rise and landward shoreline migration.

At local scale, location, geometry, nature of deposits, and lateral variations of the stratigraphic pattern are controlled by the interaction between eustasy and local factors as sediment supply, antecedent morphology and ocean dynamics.

Seaward of the Rhône river, terrigenous input was important during deglaciation and transgressive deposits extend continuously from the outer shelf to the inner shelf along the retreating path of the paleo-Rhône river mouth. Laterally, on either side of the Rhône incised valley, because of the reduced sediment supply, parasequences only develop on the outer shelf and inner shelf : the combination of the very low inherited gradient of the mid/outer shelf and a very high rate of sea level rise favoured a very rapid migration of the shoreline from outer to inner shelf.

Ocean dynamics has been controlled, as in present time, by the E to SE prevailing waves that are the only ones which can develop on an extended fetch. The westward alongshore drift accounted for the development of parasequences west of the incised valley. The sandy material needed for the construction of the outershelf parasequence was supplied by wave-reworking and westward long-shore drift of deposits from the Rhône delta front and the uppermost forced regressive unit.

The decreasing sand content of parasequences from outer shelf to inner shelf results from flattening of the equilibrium river profile that led to a decrease in competence and a change in the character of the sediment caliber (relative increase of suspension load).

The underlying Pleistocene depositional sequences comprise both lowstand prograding units, that characterize most of the Mediterranean shelves, and intercalated units which are analogs of the postglacial transgressive deposits here presented.

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