Anatomy of a subaqueous ice-contact fan and delta complex, Middle Pleistocene, North-west Germany



This paper presents a detailed analysis of the high-resolution facies architecture of the Middle Pleistocene Porta subaqueous ice-contact fan and delta complex, deposited on the northern margin of glacial Lake Weser (North-west Germany). A total of 10 sand and gravel pits and more than 100 wells were examined to document the complex facies architecture. The field study was supplemented with a ground-penetrating radar survey and a shear-wave seismic survey. All collected sedimentological and geophysical data were integrated into a high-resolution three-dimensional geological model for reconstructing the spatial distribution of facies associations. The Porta subaqueous fan and delta complex consist of three fan bodies deposited on a flat lake-bottom surface at the margin of a retreating ice lobe. The northernmost fan complex is up to 55 m thick, 6·2 km wide and 6·5 km long. The incipient fan deposition is characterized by high-energy flows of a plane-wall jet. Very coarse-grained, highly scoured jet-efflux deposits with an elongate plan shape indicate a high Froude number, probably >5. These jet-efflux sediments are deposited in front of a large ∼3·2 km long, up to 1·2 km wide, and up to 25 m deep flute-like scour, indicating the most proximal erosion and bypass area of the jet that widens and deepens with distance downstream to the region of maximum turbulence (approximately five times the conduit diameter). Evidence for subsequent flow splitting is given by the presence of two marginal gravel fan lobes, deposited in front of 1·3 to 2·5 km long flute-like scours, that are 0·8 to 1 km wide and 7 to 20 m deep. In response to continued aggradation, small jets developed at the periphery of these bar-like deposits and filled in the low areas adjacent to the original superelevated regions, locally raising the depositional surface and characterized by large-scale trough cross-stratified sand and pebbly sand. The incision of an up to 1·2 km wide and up to 35 m deep channel into the evolving fan is attributed to a catastrophic drainage event, probably related to a lake outburst and lake-level fall in the range of 40 to 60 m. At the mouth of this channel, highly scoured jet-efflux deposits formed under hydraulic-jump conditions during flow expansion. Subsequently, Gilbert-type deltas formed on the truncated fan margin, recording a second lake-level drop in the range of 30 to 40 m. These catastrophic lake-level falls were probably caused by rapid ice-lobe retreat controlled by the convex-up bottom topography of the ice valley.