Recognition of the occurrence and extent of hemipelagic and pelagic deposits in turbidite sequences is of considerable importance for environmental analysis (palaeodepth, circulation, distance from land, hemipelagic or pelagic versus turbidite sedimentation rates) of ancient basins. Differentiation between the finegrained parts (E-division) of turbidites and the (hemi-) pelagic layers (F-division of turbidite-pelagite alternations) is facilitated in basins where carbonate turbidites were deposited below the carbonate compensation depth (CCD) such as the Flysch Zone of the East Alps but may be difficult in other basins where less compositional contrast is developed between the fine-grained turbidites and hemipelagites. This difficulty pertains particularly in Palaeozoic and older basins. For Late Mesozoic-Cenozoic oceans with a relatively deep calcite compensation level three other types of turbidite basins may be distinguished for which differentiation becomes increasingly more difficult in the sequence from (1) to (3): (1) terrigenous turbidite basins above the CCD; (2) carbonate turbidite basins above the CCD; (3) terrigenous turbidite basins below the CCD.

Criteria and methods useful for the differentiation between turbiditic and hemipelagic mudstone in the Upper Cretaceous of the Flysch Zone of the East Alps include calcium carbonate content, colour, sequential analysis, distribution of bioturbation, and microfaunal content. In modern turbidite basins clay mineral content, organic matter content, plant fragments, and grain-size (graded bedding, maximum grain diameter) have reportedly also been used as criteria (see Table 3).

Deposition of muddy sediment by turbidity currents on weakly sloping sea bottoms such as the distal parts of deep-sea fans or abyssal plains is not only feasible but may lead to the accumulation of thick layers. Contrary to earlier speculation it can be explained by the hydrodynamic theory of turbidity currents, if temperature differences between the turbidity current and the ambient deep water as well as relatively high current velocities for the deposition of turbiditic muds (an order of magnitude higher on mud surfaces than commonly assumed) are taken into consideration. The former add to the capacity of turbidity currents to carry muddy sediment without creating a driving force on a low slope.