During ODP Leg 166, Middle Miocene sediments were collected along the western margin of the Great Bahama Bank (GBB) at four sites, distributed along a proximal-distal transect. Site 1006 is located in the basin, Site 1007 at the toe-of-slope and Sites 1003 and 1005 on the mid and upper slope. The carbonate slope deposits of GBB consist of periplatform oozes, an admixture of platform-derived aragonite and high-magnesium calcite particles, and pelagic low-magnesium calcite. An assessment of carbonate sedimentation is made in order to estimate the proportion of platform-derived versus pelagic components. The originality of this study is based on the application of a separation method giving access to homogeneous granulometric fractions, ranging from 63 to 3 μm in grain diameter. This method, associated with a multidisciplinary approach (micropaleontology, optical and electronic microscopy, mineralogy – X-ray diffractometry, and trace elements geochemistry – strontium and magnesium), allows the quantification and characterization of different kinds of carbonate particles. In Miocene sediments, three types of particles display a biogenic structure: planktonic foraminifera, calcareous nannofossils and fragments of neritic organisms. Two types of particles do not exhibit any structures that allow for a determination of their origin. Based on their size and their mineralogy, we have distinguished macroparticles (calcite and dolomite) and microparticles (calcite and aragonite).
The detailed study of the composition of the separated fractions highlights major differences in carbonate ooze composition between the different sites along the transect. The unlithified samples of Sites 1006 and 1007 are dominated by pelagic components (planktonic foraminifera and calcareous nannofossils) and contain aragonite microparticles. In contrast, lithified sediments of Sites 1003 and 1005 (and 1007) are characterized by higher proportions of neritic debris and particles without biologic structure, the pelagic phase is impoverished and aragonite needles are absent. The origin of particles without biological structure has been demonstrated by their spatial distribution and by mineralogical as well as geochemical criteria. The rhombohedral calcitic microparticles mainly occur at slope sites. Their high magnesium contents support a formation on the bank implying an allochthonous origin. This suggests that calcitic microparticles correspond to the bank micrite exported towards slope environments. Rhomboedral calcitic macroparticles, which fill sediment voids, originate from in situ transformations of metastable carbonates due to pore fluids, which preferentially flow in the slope permeable sediments. Two sedimentary sources are proposed: 1) an autochthonous pelagic source with low-magnesium calcitic components and 2) an allochthonous neritic source with both aragonitic and calcitic components. Export and depositional processes can be differentiated for the allochthonous particles. The neritic debris and calcitic microparticles in slope Sites 1003 and 1005 (and less frequently in Site 1007) were probably exported by gravity currents whereas the aragonite microparticles, due to their shape and granulometry, were perhaps transported as suspension and deposited at the distal Sites 1006 and 1007.