Sedimentology and depositional architecture of tufas deposited in stepped fluvial systems of changing slope: Lessons from the Quaternary Añamaza valley (Iberian Range, Spain)



The Pleistocene and Holocene tufas of the Añamaza valley (stepped build-ups, up to 70 m thick, along the valley) consist of several depositional stages separated by erosional surfaces. Eight associations of tufa and related carbonate facies, plus minor polygenic detrital facies, represent the processes that occurred in different fluvial and related environments. The bedrock lithology and structure controlled the location of the knickpoints along the valley and allowed separation of two stepped stretches with distinct conceptual facies models. The moderate-slope model includes extensive standing-water areas dammed by barrage-cascades. In the lakes, bioclastic silts, sands and limestones along with phytoclastic and marly, at places peaty, sediments formed. Abundant stem phytoherms account for extensive palustrine areas. The high-slope model consists of smaller dammed areas between close-up cascades and barrage-cascades, which were composed primarily of moss phytoherms and phytoclastic tufas. An outstanding feature is the extensive steep reach with phytoclastic and polygenic detrital sediments, and stepped cascades consisting of stromatolitic and moss phytoherms. There, the steep slope limited the preservation of stem phytoherms and favoured erosion. The geometry and thickness of the sedimentary fill (wedge-shaped units composed of cascade and barrage-cascade deposits downstream, and dammed and gentle-sloped channel deposits upstream) are therefore different for each model. Multi-storey wedges are a distinctive feature of the high-slope model. The initial knickpoint geometry and the tufa aggradation/progradation ratio on such steep surfaces (for example, related to changes in discharge) controlled the growth style of the cascades or barrage-cascades and, hence, the extent, thickness and vertical evolution of the upstream deposits. The sedimentological attributes and stable-isotope composition of the carbonate facies suggest a higher and more variable precipitation/evaporation ratio during the Pleistocene than during the Holocene, consistent with an overall decrease in the river discharge. This evolution was coupled with warm conditions, which prevailed during the stages of tufa formation. These results may help to assess architectural patterns in interpreting other basins, and underscore the significance of tufas as records of past hydrology and climate.