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Keywords:

  • Sediment cores;
  • turbidites;
  • turbidity currents

ABSTRACT The Moroccan Turbidite System (MTS) on the north-west African margin extends 1500 km from the head of the Agadir Canyon to the Madeira Abyssal Plain, making it one of the longest turbidite systems in the world. The MTS consists of three interconnected deep-water basins, the Seine Abyssal Plain (SAP), the Agadir Basin and the Madeira Abyssal Plain (MAP), connected by a network of distributary channels. Excellent core control has enabled individual turbidites to be correlated between all three basins, giving a detailed insight into the turbidite depositional architecture of a system with multiple source areas and complex morphology. Large-volume (> 100 km3) turbidites, sourced from the Morocco Shelf, show a relatively simple architecture in the Madeira and Seine Abyssal Plains. Sandy bases form distinct lobes or wedges that thin rapidly away from the basin margin and are overlain by ponded basin-wide muds. However, in the Agadir Basin, the turbidite fill is more complex owing to a combination of multiple source areas and large variations in turbidite volume. A single, very large turbidity current (200–300 km3 of sediment) deposited most of its sandy load within the Agadir Basin, but still had sufficient energy to carry most of the mud fraction 500 km further downslope to the MAP. Large turbidity currents (100–150 km3 of sediment) deposit most of their sand and mud fraction within the Agadir Basin, but also transport some of their load westwards to the MAP. Small turbidity currents (< 35 km3 of sediment) are wholly confined within the Agadir Basin, and their deposits pinch out on the basin floor. Turbidity currents flowing beyond the Agadir Basin pass through a large distributary channel system. Individual turbidites correlated across this channel system show major variations in the mineralogy of the sand fraction, whereas the geochemistry and micropalaeontology of the mud fraction remain very similar. This is interpreted as evidence for separation of the flow, with a sand-rich, erosive, basal layer confined within the channel system, overlain by an unconfined layer of suspended mud. Large-volume turbidites within the MTS were deposited at oxygen isotope stage boundaries, during periods of rapid sea-level change and do not appear to be specifically connected to sea-level lowstands or highstands. This contrasts with the classic fan model, which suggests that most turbidites are deposited during lowstands of sea level. In addition, the three largest turbidites on the MAP were deposited during the largest fluctuations in sea level, suggesting a link between the volume of sediment input and the magnitude of sea-level change.