Syntectonic subaqueous mass flows of the Neoproterozoic Otavi Group, Namibia: where is the evidence of global glaciation?


Nick Eyles, Department of Geology, University of Toronto at Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, ON, Canada M1C 1A4. E-mail:


The thick (>1 km) Neoproterozoic Otavi Group of Namibia accumulated after ca. 760 Ma along >700 km of the faulted margin of the Congo Craton. The margin shows a north to south, downbasin transition from a shallow-water carbonate shelf (Otavi Platform) to offshore deepwater slope (Outjo Basin). Within the latter, the Abenab and Tsumeb Subgroups contain large volumes of poorly sorted breccias, conglomerates and diamictites composed principally of locally derived carbonate. Diamictite facies were reported in the 1930s as tillites left by an ice sheet (although the absence of striated clasts and other key glacial indicators was viewed as problematic). Later workers rejected a glacial origin concluding that Outjo basin facies were deposited as parts of prograding submarine wedges built by mass flows during active rifting. Recently, the Snowball Earth hypothesis has returned to the earlier glacial interpretation; arguing that these strata represent a record of extraordinary late Neoproterozoic glacial and interglacial climates when global temperatures fluctuated by up to 100°C. Facies analysis of breccias, diamictites, conglomerates and sandstone strata of the Otavi Group identifies them as genetically related, subaqueously deposited sediment gravity flows. They lack diagnostic indicators of any one specific climate in source areas. These facies were all deposited in deepwater at the foot of landslide-prone scarp blocks where debris flows and turbidity currents moved large volumes of coarse, freshly broken carbonate debris produced by faulting. Breccias, diamictites, conglomerates and sandstones occur in composite fining- and thinning-upward bundles that are directly analogous to those reported from many other faulted margins in the Phanerozoic stratigraphic record. These rocks provide no clear sedimentological signature of a glacial source or catastrophic Snowball Earth-type temperature fluctuations. Instead, they point to a dominant tectonic control on sedimentation related to faulting along the margin of the Congo Craton.