Turbidite depositional patterns and flow characteristics, Navy Submarine Fan, California Borderland



The late Pleistocene and Holocene stratigraphy of Navy Fan is mapped in detail from more than 100 cores. Thirteen 14C dates of plant detritus and of organic-rich mud beds show that a marked change in sediment supply from sandy to muddy turbidites occurred between 9000 and 12,000 years ago. They also confirm the correlation of several individual depositional units. The sediment dispersal pattern is primarily controlled by basin configuration and fan morphology, particularly the geometry of distributary channels, which show abrupt 60° bends related to the Pleistocene history of lobe progradation. The Holocene turbidity currents are depositing on, and modifying only slightly, a relict Pleistocene morphology.

The uppermost turbidite is a thin sand to mud bed on the upper-fan valley levées and on parts of the mid-fan. Most of its sediment volume is in a mud bed on the lower fan and basin plain downslope from a sharp bend in the mid-fan distributary system. Little sediment occurs farther downstream within this distributary system. It appears that most of the turbidity current overtopped the levée at the channel bend, a process referred to as flow stripping. The muddy upper part of the flow continued straight down to the basin plain. The residual more sandy base of the flow in the distributary channel was not thick enough to maintain itself as gradient decreased and the channel opened out on to the mid-fan lobe.

Flow stripping may occur in any turbidity current that is thick relative to channel depth and that flows in a channel with sharp bends. Where thick sandy currents are stripped, levée and mid-fan erosion may occur, but the residual current in the channel will lose much of its power and deposit rapidly. In thick muddy currents, progressive overflow of mud will cause less declaration of the residual channelised current. Thus both size and sand-to-mud ratio of turbidity currents feeding a fan are important factors controlling morphologic features and depositional areas on fans. The size-frequency variation for different types of turbidity currents is estimated from the literature and related to the evolution of fan morphology.