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Soft-sediment deformation structures in late Albian to Cenomanian deposits, São Luís Basin, northern Brazil: evidence for palaeoseismicity



Soft-sediment deformation structures from the Alcântara Formation (late Albian to Cenomanian), São Luís Basin, northern Brazil, consist of (1) contorted structures, which include convolute folds, ball-and-pillow structures, concave-up paths with consolidation lamination, recumbently folded cross-stratification and irregular convolute stratification that grades into massive beds; (2) intruded structures, which include pillars, dykes, cusps and subsidence lobes; and (3) brittle structures, represented by fractures and faults displaying planes with a delicate, ragged morphology and sharp peaks. These structures result from a complex combination of processes, mostly including reverse density gradients, fluidization and liquefaction. Reverse density gradients, promoted by differential liquefaction associated with different degrees of sediment compaction, led to the genesis of convolute folds. More intense deformation promoted the development of ball-and-pillow structures, subsidence lobes and sand rolls, which are attributed to denser, and thus more compacted (less liquefied), portions that sank down into less dense, more liquefied sediments. Irregular convolute stratification that grades into massive beds would have formed at periods of maximum deformation. The subsidence of beds was accompanied by lateral current drag and fluid escape from water-saturated sands. In addition, the fractures and faults record brittle deformation penecontemporaneous with sediment deposition. All these mechanisms were triggered by a seismic agent, as suggested by a combination of criteria, including (1) the position of the study area at the edge of a major strike-slip fault zone that was reactivated several times from the Albian to the Holocene; (2) a relative increase in the degree of deformation in sites located closer to the fault zone; (3) continuity of the deformed beds over large distances (several kilometres); (4) restriction of soft-sediment deformation structures to single stratigraphic intervals bounded by entirely undeformed strata; (5) recurrence through time; and (6) similarities to many other earthquake-induced deformational structures.