Late Pleistocene morainal bank facies at Greystones, eastern Ireland: an example of sedimentation during ice marginal re-equilibration in an isostatically depressed basin



A late Pleistocene morainal bank is sited in a depocentre to the lee of a major rock ridge, near Greystones, in the western Irish Sea Basin. During deglaciation the ridge provided a pinning point during tidewater wastage northwards. Sedimentation patterns and palaeocurrent data show morainal bank growth by discharge from a single basal efflux located to the east or south-east of the ridge during ice marginal re-equilibration.

The four lithofacies associations which are recognized from the western part of the formerly more extensive apron are related largely to variable jet and plume sedimentation. At the base of the 1.6 km long exposure, Lithofacies association 1 (massive mud, muddy diamict and laminated mud) was deposited from turbid plumes, variable ice rafting and traction current activity. Lenticular units of gravels within this mud bank record high energy pulses and sediment fluxes from the efflux jet. Lithofacies association 2 (sands, laminated muds and muddy diamict) is discontinuous and occurs within basins along a marked erosion surface cut in Lithofacies association 1. It is associated with a decrease in jet strength, traction currents and suspension sedimentation. Lithofacies association 3 is a tabular body of interbedded diamicts and gravels which is present along the entire section. It documents the decay phase of re-equilibration as the ice margin disintegrated catastrophically and released large volumes of heterogeneous sediment which was resedimented by quasicontinuous mass flow. Lithofacies association 4 consists of stratified and massive gravels within distributary channels cut into underlying facies and represents the last phase of meltwater activity.

Sediment geometries, particularly sedimentary contrasts representing erosion surfaces at a variety of scales and abrupt textural contrasts are attributed to jet switching. Lithofacies association 1 (60%) and Lithofacies association 3 (30%) are the dominant facies. In favourable topographic settings this stratigraphic couplet is a signature for re-equilibrated ice margins in isostatically depressed basins dominated by tidewater fronts, rapid ice flux and high relative sea level.

Morainal banks document rapid environmental change and in the Irish Sea Basin they form part of a deglacial event stratigraphy related to unstable tidewater margins and high relative sea level. Deglaciation was therefore controlled primarily by high relative sea level rather than climatic forcing. Facies variations should therefore not be used for stratigraphic correlations in place of direct stratigraphy. This type of situation may be more common than hitherto realized in Late Pleistocene, mid-latitude shelves where most of the preserved stratigraphy is characterized by complex, interbedded sequences formed when isostatic depression exceeded sea-level fall.