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ABSTRACT

The late Quaternary development of part of the lower continental rise off Western Sahara has been determined from an investigation of short (< 2 m) gravity cores collected from a deep-sea channel, the interchannel areas and an abyssal hill, between 30 and 33°N. Stratigraphic analysis is based on systematic variations in abundances of particular coccolith species and pelagic sediment types, referenced to the oxygen isotope time-scale. During the last 73 000 years deposition in the channel has included volcaniclastic sand/silt turbidites and minor marl turbidites as well as pelagic sediments. The interchannel area has fewer turbidites, and the sands present were probably deposited from turbidity currents which spilt over the channel sides. The last‘event’ to give rise to sands in the channel and interchannel area occurred about 45 000 years ago. Although the channel has been inactive as an area of turbidity current deposition for the last 20 000 years, sands were deposited elsewhere on the lower rise, indicating that turbidity current transport routes have varied in time.

Turbidity current deposition on the abyssal plain and low-lying continental rise appears to be related to distinct sliding events involving transport of material from various sources. Thin marl turbidites are interbedded with pelagic sediments in the area of sediment drape. There is a strong correlation between these and the thick marl turbidites on the abyssal plain, suggesting that the same turbidity current‘events’, occurring about once every 25 000 years, gave rise to both sets of deposits. The thinner units probably represent deposition from the outer parts or tails of the large turbidity flows. The turbidites occur at glacial/interglacial transitions, suggesting that the slides that created them were triggered by mechanisms related to climatic change. Several volcaniclastic sand/silt units within the channel and in interchannel areas occupy mid-stage stratigraphic positions, perhaps indicating a different triggering mechanism for slides around volcanic islands. A debris flow deposit (debrite), between 30°N, 21°W and 31°N, 24°W, is related to the Saharan Sediment Slide, a major mass movement feature on the continental slope over 1000 km to the southeast. Stratigraphic correlations indicate that this slide produced a large turbidity current as well as a debris flow.