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Keywords:

  • Aberdeen Member;
  • across-shelf transport;
  • Book Cliffs;
  • hyperpycnites;
  • isolated sandbodies;
  • sediment bypass;
  • shelf channels;
  • shoreface-to-shelf depositional models;
  • turbidity currents;
  • underflows;
  • wave-modified turbidites;
  • wave-supported gravity flows

Abstract

The shore-normal transport of fine-grained sediments by shelf turbidity currents has been the focus of intense debate over the last 20 years. Many have argued that turbidity currents are unlikely to be a major depositional agent on the shelf. However, sedimentological, architectural, stratigraphic and palaeogeographic data from the Campanian Aberdeen Member, Book Cliffs, eastern Utah suggests otherwise and clearly demonstrates that storm-generated and river flood-generated underflows can transport a significant volume of fine-grained sediments across the shelf. These across-shelf flowing turbidity currents cut large subaqueous channel complexes up to 7 m deep, tens of kilometres basinward of their time-equivalent shoreface. The shelf channels were filled with organic-rich siltstones, mudstones and very fine- to fine-grained Bouma-like sandstone beds, including wave-modified turbidites, hyperpycnites and classical turbidites. Deposition was above storm wave base. Palaeocurrent data reveal an overwhelmingly dominant across-shelf (east–south-east), offshore-directed transport trend. Tectonic activity and/or concomitant palaeogeographic reorganization of the basin may favour the generation of these turbidite-rich shelf deposits by altering the relative balance of wave versus fluvial energy. Increased erosion and sediment supply rates, because of tectonic uplift of the hinterland, may have increased the probability of fluvial dominance along the coastline and, hence, the possibility of submarine channelization in front of the river mouths. Additionally, the coastline may have become more sheltered from direct wave energy, thus allowing the fluvial processes to dominate. Seasonal increases in rainfall and storm activity may also favour the generation of across-shelf underflows. On wave-dominated shorelines, isolated shelf channels and lobes are most likely to be found down-dip of fluvial-feeder systems in relatively high sediment supply settings. These features are also most likely to occur in systems tracts that straddle a sequence boundary, especially those which are tectonically generated, as these would enhance the potential for altering basin morphology and, hence, the balance of fluvial and wave energy. Isolated shelf channels are recognized in older and younger strata in the Book Cliffs region, implying that wave-supported gravity flows were a recurrent phenomena in the Campanian of Utah. It is probable that isolated shelf bodies are preserved in other stratigraphic intervals in the Cretaceous Western Interior of North America, and other basins worldwide, and are currently being overlooked or misidentified. Shoreface-to-shelf facies models should be revised to incorporate turbidite-rich shelf deposits in some shelf settings.