Relay ramps as pathways for turbidity currents: a study combining analogue sandbox experiments and numerical flow simulations



Unlike for subaerial settings, the impact of subaqueous relay ramps on sediment dispersal is still poorly understood. A combination of analogue laboratory experiments in a sandbox with numerical flow calculations is used to simulate relay ramp topographies on rifting continental margins and to analyse the resulting turbidity current pathways and their deposits. Various scenarios are investigated, including inflow perpendicular and oblique to the relay ramp axis as well as flow constrained by an incised channel on the ramp and by a landward-directed tilt of the ramp. Without channelling, most sedimentation takes place on the basin floor because the bulk of the flow follows the steepest gradient down the fault and into the rift basin. With a channel along the relay ramp, significant flow occurs initially down the ramp axis, but channel spillover and basinward ramp tilting combine to redirect much of the sediment down the fault slope into the basin. When the relay ramp has a landward-oriented tilt, most of the current flows down the ramp and deposits its sediment load there and at the foot of the ramp. However, also here a considerable amount of the flow is shed over the hanging wall fault and into the basin, forming a secondary depocentre, while ponding redistributes thin deposits over a wider area of the basin. The quantitative dependence of these results on the specific ramp geometries remains to be investigated further but may bear great importance for refined sedimentary models in subaqueous rifted settings as well as for hydrocarbon exploration therein.