Coarse-grained submarine fan and slope apron deposits in a Cretaceous back-arc basin, Antarctica


  • J. R. INESON

    1. British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
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      Geological Survey of Denmark, Thoravej 8, DK 2400 Copenhagen NV, Denmark.


The Cretaceous of west James Ross Island, Antarctica represents the proximal fill of a late Mesozoic back-arc basin that was probably initiated by oblique extension during the early development of the Weddell Sea. The succession records sedimentation in two contrasting depositional systems: a laterally persistent slope apron flanking the faulted basin margin interrupted both spatially and temporally by coarse-grained submarine fans. Slope apron deposits are dominated by thinly interbedded turbiditic sandstones and mudstones (mudstone association), interspersed with non-channelized chaotic boulder beds, intraformational slump sheets and isolated exotic blocks representing a spectrum of mass-flow processes from debris flow to submarine gliding. Localized sand-rich sequences (sandstone-breccia association) represent sandy debris lobes at the mouths of active slope chutes. The submarine fan sediments (conglomerate association) are typified by coarse conglomerates and pebbly sandstones, interpreted as the deposits of high-density turbidity currents and non-cohesive debris flows. Three assemblages are recognized and are suggested to represent components of the inner channelled zone of coarse-grained submarine fans, from major fan channels through ephemeral, marginal channels or terraces to levee or interchannel environments.

The occurrence of both slope apron and submarine fan depositional systems during the Early and Mid-Cretaceous is attributed to localized input of coarse arc-derived sediment along a tectonically active basin margin. Periods of extensive fan development were probably linked to regional tectonic uplift and rejuvenation of the arc source region; cyclicity within individual fan sequences is attributed to migration or switching of fan channels or canyons. Slope apron sedimentation was controlled largely by intrabasinal tectonics. Local unconformities and packets of amalgamated slide sheets and debris flow deposits probably reflect episodic movement on basin margin faults. Differential subsidence across the basin margin anchored the basin slope for at least 20 Myr and precluded basinward progradation of shallow marine environments.