Quaternary mud turbidites from the South Shetland Trench (West Antarctica): recognition and implications for turbidite facies modelling



A piston core from the basinal part (depth of 5188 m) of the South Shetland Trench (West Antarctica) yielded a terrigenous mud section 11 m long, which can be subdivided with great precision into turbidite and hemipelagite layers. Mud turbidites (mean bed thickness = 44 cm) alternate regularly with, and are best distinguishable from, their hemipelagite host (mean bed thickness = 17 cm) by the following features: (i) sharp basal contacts; (ii) terrigenous sand-free textures (except basal, well-sorted silt laminae) and the absence of outsized (ice-rafted) components; (iii) a laminated, little to non-bioturbated internal structure; (iv) distinct textural and compositional grading; and (v) marked steps on water-content and sediment-density logs.

Mud turbidites recovered from the South Shetland Trench differ from an earlier model mud-turbidite sequence by their: (i) excessive (about six times larger) bed thickness; (ii) complex internal organization, manifested in multiple repetitions (up to four) of the same structural interval(s) in sequential or nonsequential order; (iii) distinctive very fine-grained cap of highly porous clay, rich in fragments of siliceous biogenics; (iv) widespread zones of penesyndepositional deformation; and (v) evidence of flow reversals. These features are interpreted to record deposition from large, muddy turbidity currents subjected to flow transformations, including soliton- and/or seiche-related reversals, induced by ponding and interactions of the flow with the topographical confinements of the trench.

It is concluded that‘contained’muddy turbidites cannot be adequately modelled using published sequences. Differentiation of single-model and‘contained’mud turbidites offers obvious advantages in basin analysis and in understanding the plethora of turbidity current-related depositional mechanisms of deep-sea mud.