The effects of sea level and palaeotopography on lithofacies distribution and geometries in heterozoan carbonates, south-eastern Spain



This study utilized three-dimensional exposures to evaluate how sea-level position and palaeotopography control the facies and geometries of heterozoan carbonates. Heterozoan carbonates were deposited on top of a Neogene volcanic substrate characterized by palaeotopographic highs, palaeovalleys, and straits that were formed by subaerial erosion, possibly original volcanic topography, and faults prior to carbonate deposition. The depositional sequence that is the focus of this study (DS1B) consists of 7–10 fining upward cycles that developed in response to relative sea-level fluctuations. A complete cycle has a basal erosion surface overlain by deposits of debrisflows and high-density turbidity currents, which formed during relative sea-level fall. Overlying tractive deposits most likely formed during the lowest relative position of sea level. Overlying these are debrites grading upward to high-density turbidites and low-density turbidites that formed during relative sea-level rise. The tops of the cycles consist of hemipelagic deposits that formed during the highest relative position of sea level. The cycles fine upward because upslope carbonate production decreased as relative sea level rose due to less surface area available for shallow-water carbonate production and partial drowning of substrates. The cycles are dominated by two end-member types of facies associations and stratal geometries that formed in response to fluctuating sea-level position over variable substrate palaeotopography. One end-member is termed ‘flank flow cycle’ because this type of cycle indicates dominant sediment transport down the flanks of palaeovalleys. Those cycles drape the substrate, have more debrites, high-density turbidites and erosion on palaeovalley flanks, and in general, the lithofacies fine down the palaeovalley flanks into the palaeovalley axes. The second end-member is termed ‘axial flow cycle’ because it indicates a dominance of sediment transport down the axes of palaeovalleys. Those cycles are characterized by debrites and high-density turbidites in palaeovalley axes, and lap out of strata against the flanks of palaeovalleys. Where and when an axial flow cycle or flank flow cycle developed appears to be related to the intersection of sea level with areas of gentle or steep substrate slopes, during an overall relative rise in sea level. Results from this study provide a model for similar systems that must combine carbonate principles for sediment production, palaeotopographic controls, and physical principles of sediment remobilization into deep water.