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Stratigraphic organization and predictability of mixed coarse-grained and fine-grained successions in an upper slope Pleistocene turbidite system of the Peri-Adriatic basin



The early Pleistocene clastic succession of the Peri-Adriatic basin, eastern central Italy, records the filling of a series of piggyback sub-basins that formed in response to the development of the eastward-verging Apennine fold-thrust belt. During the Gelasian (2·588 to 1·806 Ma), large volumes of Apennine-derived sediments were routed to these basins through a number of slope turbidite systems. Using a comprehensive outcrop-based dataset, the current study documents the depositional processes, stratigraphic organization, foraminiferal age and palaeodepth, and stratigraphic evolution of one of these systems exposed in the surroundings of the Castignano village. Analysis of foraminiferal assemblages consistently indicates Gelasian deposition in upper bathyal water depths. Sediments exposed in the study area can be broken into seven main lithofacies, reflecting specific gravity-induced depositional elements and slope background deposition: (i) clast-supported conglomerates (conglomerate channel-fill); (ii) amalgamated sandstones (late stage sandstone channel-fill); (iii) medium to thick-bedded tabular sandstones (frontal splay sandstones); (iv) thin to thick-bedded channelized sandstones (sandy channel-fill); (v) medium to very thin-bedded sandstones and mudstones (levée-overbank deposits); (vi) pebbly mudstones and chaotic beds (mudstone-rich mass-transport deposits); and (vii) massive mudstones (hemipelagic deposits). Individual lithofacies combine vertically and laterally to form decametre-scale, disconformably bounded, fining-upward lithofacies successions that, in turn, stack to form slope valley fills bounded by deeply incised erosion surfaces. A hierarchical approach to the physical stratigraphy of the slope system indicates that it has evolved through multiple cycles of waxing then waning flow energy at multiple scales and that its packaging can be described in terms of a six-fold hierarchy of architectural elements and bounding surfaces. In this scheme, the whole system (sixth-order element) is comprised of three distinct fifth-order stratigraphic cycles (valley fills), which define sixth-order initiation, growth and retreat phases of slope deposition, respectively; they are separated by discrete periods of entrenchment that generated erosional valleys interpreted to record fifth-order initiation phases. Backfilling of individual valleys progressed through deposition of two vertically stacked lithofacies successions (fourth-order elements), which record fifth-order growth and retreat phases. Fourth-order initiation phases are represented by erosional surfaces bounding lithofacies successions. The component lithofacies (third-order element) record fourth-order growth and retreat phases. Map trends of erosional valleys and palaeocurrent indicators converge to indicate that the sea floor bathymetric expression of a developing thrust-related anticline markedly influenced the downslope transport direction of gravity currents and was sufficient to cause a major diversion of the turbidite system around the growing structure. This field-based study permits the development of a sedimentological model that predicts the evolutionary style of mixed coarse-grained and fine-grained turbidite slope systems, the internal distribution of reservoir and non-reservoir lithofacies within them, and has the potential to serve as an analogue for seismic or outcrop-based studies of slope valley fills developed in actively deforming structural settings and under severe icehouse regimes.