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Keywords:

  • Active margin;
  • gravity flow;
  • Gulf of Oman;
  • hydraulic jump;
  • plunge pool;
  • slope break deposits;
  • submarine slope;
  • turbidite system

Abstract

This study investigates the morphology and Late Quaternary sediment distribution of the Makran turbidite system (Makran subduction zone, north-west Indian Ocean) from a nearly complete subsurface mapping of the Oman basin, two-dimensional seismic and a large set of coring data in order to characterize turbidite system architecture across an active (fold and thrust belt) margin. The Makran turbidite system is composed of a dense network of canyons, which cut into high relief accreted ridges and intra-slope piggyback basins, forming at some locations connected and variably tortuous paths down complex slopes. Turbidite activity and trench filling rates are high even during the Holocene sea-level highstand conditions. In particular, basin-wide, sheet-like thick mud turbidites, probably related to major mass wasting events of low recurrence time, drape the flat and unchannellized Oman abyssal plain. Longitudinal depth profiles show that the Makran canyons are highly disrupted by numerous thrust-related large-scale knickpoints (with gradients up to 20° and walls up to 500 m high). At the deformation front, the strong break of slope can lead to the formation of canyon-mouth ‘plunge pools’ of variable shapes and sizes. The plunge pools observed in the western Makran are considerably larger than those previously described in sub-surface successions; the first insights into their internal architecture and sedimentary processes are presented here. Large plunge pools in the western Makran are associated with large scoured areas at the slope break and enhanced sediment deposition downstream: high-amplitude reflectors are observed inside the plunge pools, while their flanks are composed of thin-bedded, fine-grained turbidites deposited by the uppermost part of the turbidity flows. Thus, these architectural elements are associated with strong sediment segregation leading to specific trench-fill mechanisms, as only the finer-grained component of the flows is transferred to the abyssal plain. However, the Makran accretionary prism is characterized by strong along-strike variability in tectonics and fluvial input distribution that might directly influence the turbidite system architecture (i.e. canyon entrenchment, plunge pool formation or channel development at canyon mouths), the sedimentary dynamics and the resulting sediment distribution. Channel formation in the abyssal plain and trench-fill characteristics depend on the theoretical ‘equilibrium’ conditions of the feeder system, which is related closely to the balance between erosion rates and tectonic regime. Thus, the Makran turbidite system constitutes an excellent modern analogue for deep-water sedimentary systems with structurally complex depocentres, in convergent margin settings.