Facies of slurry-flow deposits, Britannia Formation (Lower Cretaceous), North Sea: implications for flow evolution and deposit geometry



ABSTRACT Mud-rich sandstone beds in the Lower Cretaceous Britannia Formation, UK North Sea, were deposited by sediment flows transitional between debris flows and turbidity currents, termed slurry flows. Much of the mud in these flows was transported as sand- and silt-sized grains that were approximately hydraulically equivalent to suspended quartz and feldspar. In the eastern Britannia Field, individual slurry beds are continuous over long distances, and abundant core makes it possible to document facies changes across the field. Most beds display regular areal grain-size changes. In this study, fining trends, especially in the size of the largest grains, are used to estimate palaeoflow and palaeoslope directions. In the middle part of the Britannia Formation, stratigraphic zones 40 and 45, slurry flows moved from south-west and south towards the north-east and north. Most zone 45 beds lens out before reaching the northern edge of the field, apparently by wedging out against the northern basin slope. Zone 40 and 45 beds show downflow facies transitions from low-mud-content, dish-structured and wispy-laminated sandstone to high-mud-content banded units. In zone 50, at the top of the formation, flows moved from north to south or north-west to south-east, and their deposits show transitions from proximal mud-rich banded and mixed slurried beds to more distal lower-mud-content banded and wispy-laminated units. The contrasting facies trends in zones 40 and 45 and zone 50 may reflect differing grain-size relationships between quartz and feldspar grains and mud particles in the depositing flows. In zones 40 and 45, quartz grains average 0·30–0·32 mm in diameter, ≈ 0·10 mm coarser than in zone 50. The medium-grained quartz in zones 40 and 45 flows may have been slightly coarser than the associated mud grains, resulting in the preferential deposition of quartz in proximal areas and downslope enrichment of the flows in mud. In zone 50 flows, mud was probably slightly coarser than the associated fine-grained quartz, resulting in early mud sedimentation and enrichment of the distal flows in fine-grained quartz and feldspar. Mud particles in all flows may have had an effective grain size of ≈ 0·25 mm. Both mud content and suspended-load fallout rate played key roles in the sedimentation of Britannia slurry flows and structuring of the resulting deposits. During deposition of zones 40 and 45, the area of the eastern Britannia Field in block 16/26 may have been a locally enclosed subbasin within which the depositing slurry flows were locally ponded. Slurry beds in the eastern Britannia Field are ‘lumpy’ sheet-like bodies that show facies changes but little additional complexity. There is no thin-bedded facies that might represent waning flows analogous to low-density turbidity currents. The dominance of laminar, cohesion-dominated shear layers during sedimentation prevented most bed erosion, and the deposystem lacked channel, levee and overbank facies that commonly make up turbidity current-dominated systems. Britannia slurry flows, although turbulent and capable of size-fractionating even fine-grained sediments, left sand bodies with geometries and facies more like those deposited by poorly differentiated laminar debris flows.