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Anatomy of turbidites and linked debrites based on long distance (120 × 30 km) bed correlation, Marnoso Arenacea Formation, Northern Apennines, Italy



Much of our understanding of submarine sediment-laden density flows that transport very large volumes (ca 1 to 100 km3) of sediment into the deep ocean comes from careful analysis of their deposits. Direct monitoring of these destructive and relatively inaccessible and infrequent flows is problematic. In order to understand how submarine sediment-laden density flows evolve in space and time, lateral changes within individual flow deposits need to be documented. The geometry of beds and lithofacies intervals can be used to test existing depositional models and to assess the validity of experimental and numerical modelling of submarine flow events. This study of the Miocene Marnoso Arenacea Formation (Italy) provides the most extensive correlation of individual turbidity current and submarine debris flow deposits yet achieved in any ancient sequence. One hundred and nine sections were logged through a ca 30 m thick interval of time-equivalent strata, between the Contessa Mega Bed and an overlying ‘columbine’ marker bed. Correlations extend for 120 km along the axis of the foreland basin, in a direction parallel to flow, and for 30 km across the foredeep outcrop. As a result of post-depositional thrust faulting and shortening, this represents an across-flow distance of over 60 km at the time of deposition. The correlation of beds containing thick (> 40 cm) sandstone intervals are documented. Almost all thick beds extend across the entire outcrop area, most becoming thinly bedded (< 40 cm) in distal sections. Palaeocurrent directions for flow deposits are sub-parallel and indicate confinement by the lateral margins of the elongate foredeep. Flows were able to traverse the basin in opposing directions, suggesting a basin plain with a very low gradient. Small fractional changes in stratal thickness define several depocentres on either side of the Verghereto (high) area. The extensive bed continuity and limited evidence for flow defection suggest that intrabasinal bathymetric relief was subtle, substantially less than the thickness of flows. Thick beds contain two distinct types of sandstone. Ungraded mud-rich sandstone intervals record evidence of en masse (debrite) deposition. Graded mud-poor sandstone intervals are inferred to result from progressive grain-by-grain (turbidite) deposition. Clast-rich muddy sandstone intervals pinch-out abruptly in downflow and crossflow directions, in a fashion consistent with en masse (debrite) deposition. The tapered shape of mud-poor sandstone intervals is consistent with an origin through progressive grain-by-grain (turbidite) deposition. Most correlated beds comprise both turbidite and debrite sandstone intervals. Intrabed transitions from exclusive turbidite sandstone, to turbidite sandstone overlain by debrite sandstone, are common in the downflow and crossflow directions. This spatial arrangement suggests either: (i) bypass of an initial debris flow past proximal sections, (ii) localized input of debris flows away from available sections, or (iii) generation of debris flows by transformation of turbidity currents on the basin plain because of seafloor erosion and/or abrupt flow deceleration. A single submarine flow event can comprise multiple flow phases and deposit a bed with complex lateral changes between mud-rich and mud-poor sandstone.