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Keywords:

  • Arid sedimentology;
  • central Australia;
  • dryland;
  • endorheic basins;
  • ephemeral rivers;
  • Lake Eyre;
  • sheetfloods;
  • terminal splay

Abstract

Douglas Creek terminal splay, sited on the western shoreline of Lake Eyre North, central Australia, covers a surface area of approximately 4 km2 with a down-system length of 2·5 km from the distributary channels terminus to the splay fringe. Two distributary channels feed two sediment lobes which have amalgamated to form the terminal splay. Three primary facies associations have been identified sub-dividing the creek terminus into distributary channel, proximal and distal splay sections. Proximal splay sediments are characterized by erosionally based, relatively thick (> 100 mm), stacked sheets of coarse to medium sand which commonly display trough and planar cross-bedding, whereas the distal splay is characterized by thin (generally < 50 mm) massive beds of very fine sand, silt and clay. The change in splay sedimentology is interpreted as reflecting the transition from bedload-dominated deposition to suspended load-dominated deposition from decelerating sheetfloods as they spread out from the channel onto the dry lake bed. A proximal to distal splay transition zone is also noted where deposits of both facies associations interfinger laterally and vertically. In scale, geometry and facies associations, the Douglas Creek terminal splay is very different to the often cited Neales terminal splay complex located 70 km to the north. It is suggested that these architectural differences reflect variations in discharge volume, input sediment distribution and the degree of vegetation cover. Understanding the variation in terminal splay architecture has very significant implications for the modelling of analogous subsurface petroleum systems, which at present relies on few modern-day analogues.