Contourite depositional system after the exit of a strait: Case study from the late Miocene South Rifian Corridor, Morocco
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Idealized facies of bottom current deposits (contourites) have been established for fine-grained contourite drifts in modern deep-marine sedimentary environments. Their equivalent facies in the ancient record however are only scarcely recognized due to the weathered nature of most fine-grained deposits in outcrop. Facies related to the erosional elements (i.e. contourite channels) of contourite depositional systems have not yet been properly established and related deposits in outcrop appear non-existent. To better understand the sedimentary facies and facies sequences of contourites, the upper Miocene contourite depositional systems of the South Rifian Corridor (Morocco) is investigated. This contourite depositional system formed by the dense palaeo-Mediterranean Outflow Water. Foraminifera assemblages were used for age-constraints (7.51 to 7.35 Ma) and to determine the continental slope depositional domains. Nine sedimentary facies have been recognized based on lithology, grain-size, sedimentary structures and biogenic structures. These facies were subsequently grouped into five facies associations related to the main interpreted depositional processes (hemipelagic settling, contour currents and gravity flows). The vertical sedimentary facies succession records the tectonically induced, southward migration of the contourite depositional systems and the intermittent behaviour of the palaeo-Mediterranean Outflow Water, which is mainly driven by precession and millennial-scale climate variations. Tides substantially modulated the palaeo-Mediterranean Outflow Water on a sub-annual scale. This work shows exceptional examples of muddy and sandy contourite deposits in outcrop by which a facies distribution model from the proximal continental slope, the contourite channel to its adjacent contourite drift, is proposed. This model serves as a reference for contourite recognition both in modern environments and the ancient record. Furthermore, by establishing the hydrodynamics of overflow behaviour a framework is provided that improves process-based interpretation of deep-water bottom current deposits.