A detailed study of a Pliocene to Quaternary incised-valley system located under the Roussillon coastal area (Gulf of Lion) is carried out by means of a high-resolution seismic data set (coastal lagoons and adjacent shelf area), drill reports and analysis of a cored drill (Leucate SC1) performed in 2007 on the barrier beach in the North of Leucate lagoon.
The lowermost surface (S100/S200), correlated with a pebbles level on the Leucate core SC1 (R0), erosionnally overlies pliocene deposits. It is incised by a thalweg 15 m depth and deepens progressively from the coastal plain to the outer shelf and dips under the Quaternary forced regressive wedges.
Above this basal surface, the infilling of the incised valley corresponds to the seismic unit U1. The lower part of U1 shows continuous sub-horizontal reflectors and is correlated (Leucate SC1) to marine muds with levels of mud-supported gravels (body B). The upper part of unit U1 comprises seismic erosional reflectors that are almost amalgamated under the barrier beach. It is correlated on the Leucate well to body C comprising coarse levels (gravels and pebbles) alternating with marine muds (lower part) and marine coarse sands (upper part). The upper part of the unit is dated 12900 cal yr B.P. This unit is interpreted as resulting of successive phases of incision and infilling due to base-level changes during Pleistocene glacial and interglacial periods. Coarse levels of sand and gravel corresponding to river stages and sands and muds shelly levels representing marine stages.
The overlying units represent post-glacial late transgressive (S650) and highstand (U660, U661, U662) deposits.
This system is a rare example of well preserved compound incised valleys correlated offshore with Quaternary lowstand wedges.
By comparison, the incised valleys along the Atlantic coast of France are “simple” incised valleys where only the last episode of incision/infilling is observable. The Quaternary “compound” incised valleys cited in the literature represent examples of the fluvial part of incised systems, whereas the Languedoc-Roussillon incised valleys probably correspond to estuary or embayment, successively reoccupied during the various Quaternary eustatic cycles.
Tectonics is the main factor controlling the depositional stratigraphic architecture. The studied area is located at the hinge point between continental uplift and marine subsidence and favoured the preservation of successive phases of erosion/infilling. The geometry of the Pliocene deposits has also an impact on the shape and orientation of the buried paleovalleys.