Contourite drifts, moats and channels in the Upper Cretaceous chalk of the Danish Basin

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Abstract

During the Late Cretaceous, high global sea-level meant that most of the NW European craton was flooded by the deep epeiric ‘chalk sea’. The classical paradigm for chalk deposition envisages a quiet rain of minute skeletal debris of coccolithophorid algae and other pelagic organisms deposited as horizontal, flat-lying pelagic oozes with local redeposition by slumps, slides and debris flows along faults and other structural features. Seismic data from the Danish Basin and elsewhere necessitate a revision of this paradigm. These demonstrate that the chalk sea floor had a considerable relief, commonly of more than a hundred metres amplitude, comprising moats, drifts, mounds and channels. Seismic sections from the Kattegat sea illustrate the development in the Maastrichtian of a deep moat adjacent to a topographic ridge formed over the inverted NW–SE-trending Sorgenfrei–Tornquist Zone. The moat was up to 120 m deeper than its SW flank which was formed by an internally complex elongate drift, up to 20 km wide with an estimated length of ca 200 km. Smaller mound-like features, channels and clinoform beds are superimposed on the large-scale relief. The sea floor relief is interpreted to have formed in response to persistent bottom currents, flowing parallel to bathymetric contours. The initial build-up of the broad, gently convex-up sheeted drift was controlled by relatively low-velocity bottom currents. The region of highest current velocity was gradually shifted NE-wards towards the inversion zone ridge, resulting in the formation of the deep moat flanked by the elongate drift. The current is interpreted to have flowed from the SE towards NW on the basis of the internal architecture of the elongate drift and the NW-ward branching and decrease in moat relief. The architecture and morphology of the moat drift and other features of the chalk sea floor are in all aspects similar to contourite systems of modern continental margins. It is accordingly proposed that the fundamental physical oceanographic concept – contour currents and their resulting contourite drifts – is extended to include the deep epeiric seas which covered NW Europe during the Late Cretaceous.

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