A volcaniclastic sedimentary fan extending to water depths of 4000 m is characterized using gravity cores, camera surveys, high-resolution sonar images, seismic records and bathymetry from the submarine portion of La Fournaise volcano, Réunion Island, a basaltic shield volcano in the SW Indian Ocean.
Three main areas are identified from the study: (1) the proximal fan extending from 500 m water depth down to 2000 m water depth; (2) the outer fan extending from 2000 m water depth down to 3600 m water depth; (3) the basin extending beyond 3600 m water depth. Within these three main areas, seven distinct submarine environments are defined: the proximal fan is characterized by volcanic basement outcrops, sedimentary slides, deep-water deltas, debris-avalanche deposits, and eroded floor in the valley outlets; the outer fan is characterized by a discontinuous fine-grained sedimentary cover overlying coarse-grained turbidites or undifferentiated volcanic basement; the basin is characterized by hemipelagic muds and fine-grained turbidites interbedded with sandy and gravelly turbidite lobes.
The evolution of the deep-sea volcaniclastic fan is strongly influenced by sector collapses, such as the one which occurred 0·0042 Ma ago. This collapse produced a minimum of 6 km3 of debris-avalanche deposit in the proximal area. The feeding regime of the deep-sea fan is ‘alluvial dominated’ before the occurrence of any sector collapse and ‘lava-dominated’ after the occurrence of a sector collapse.
The main deep-water lava-fed delta is prograding among the blocks of the debris-avalanche deposits as a result of turbidity flows occurring on the delta slope. These turbidity flows are triggered routinely by wave-action, earthquakes and accumulation of new volcanic debris on top of the deltas.
Both turbidity currents triggered on the deep-water delta slope, and those triggered by debris avalanche reworked volcaniclastic material as far as 100 km from the shore line.