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Can liquefied debris flows deposit clean sand over large areas of sea floor? Field evidence from the Marnoso-arenacea Formation, Italian Apennines



The Marnoso-arenacea Formation in the Italian Apennines is the only ancient rock sequence where individual submarine sediment density flow deposits have been mapped out in detail for over 100 km. Bed correlations provide new insight into how submarine flows deposit sand, because bed architecture and sandstone shape provide an independent test of depositional process models. This test is important because it can be difficult or impossible to infer depositional process unambiguously from characteristics seen at just one outcrop, especially for massive clean-sandstone intervals whose origin has been controversial. Beds have three different types of geometries (facies tracts) in downflow oriented transects. Facies tracts 1 and 2 contain clean graded and ungraded massive sandstone deposited incrementally by turbidity currents, and these intervals taper relatively gradually downflow. Mud-rich sand deposited by cohesive debris flow occurs in the distal part of Facies tract 2. Facies tract 3 contains clean sandstone with a distinctive swirly fabric formed by patches of coarser and better-sorted grains that most likely records pervasive liquefaction. This type of clean sandstone can extend for up to 30 km before pinching out relatively abruptly. This abrupt pinch out suggests that this clean sand was deposited by debris flow. In some beds there are downflow transitions from turbidite sandstone into clean debrite sandstone, suggesting that debris flows formed by transformation from high-density turbidity currents. However, outsize clasts in one particular debrite are too large and dense to have been carried by an initial turbidity current, suggesting that this debris flow ran out for at least 15 km. Field data indicate that liquefied debris flows can sometimes deposit clean sand over large (10 to 30 km) expanses of sea floor, and that these clean debrite sand layers can terminate abruptly.