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Keywords:

  • Deltaic;
  • growth fault;
  • retrogressive;
  • Upper Carboniferous

Abstract

Growth faulting is a common feature of many deltaic environments and is vital in determining local sediment dispersal and accumulation, and hence in controlling the resultant sedimentary facies distribution and architecture. Growth faults occur on a range of scales, from a few centimetres to hundreds of metres, with the largest growth faults frequently being under-represented in outcrops that are often smaller than the scale of feature under investigation. This paper presents data from the exceptionally large outcrops of the Cliffs of Moher, western Ireland, where a growth-fault complex affects strata up to 60 m in thickness and extends laterally for ≈ 3 km. Study of this Namurian (Upper Carboniferous) growth-fault system enables the relationship between growth faulting and sedimentation to be detailed and permits reconstruction of the kinematic history of faulting. Growth faulting was initiated with the onset of sandstone deposition on a succession of silty mudstones that overlie a thin, marine shale. The decollement horizon developed at the top of the marine shale contact for the first nine faults, by which time aggradation in the hangingwall exceeded 60 m in thickness. After this time, failure planes developed at higher stratigraphic levels and were associated with smaller scale faults. The fault complex shows a dominantly landward retrogressive movement, in which only one fault was largely active at any one time. There is no evidence of compressional features at the base of the growth faults, thus suggesting open-ended slides, and the faults display both disintegrative and non-disintegrative structure. Thin-bedded, distal mouth bar facies dominate the hangingwall stratigraphy and, in the final stages of growth-fault movement, erosion of the crests of rollover structures resulted in the highest strata being restricted to the proximity of the fault. These upper erosion surfaces on the fault scarp developed erosive chutes that were cut parallel to flow and are downlapped by the distal hangingwall strata of younger growth faults.