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Origin, evolution and anatomy of silt-prone submarine external levées



Submarine external levées are constructional features that develop outside slope channel systems, and are a volumetrically significant component of continental margins. However, detailed observations of their process sedimentology and depositional architecture are rare. Extensive exposures of external levées at multiple stratigraphic intervals and well-constrained palaeogeographic positions in the Fort Brown Formation, Karoo Basin, South Africa, have been calibrated with research boreholes. This integrated data set permits their origin, evolution and anatomy to be considered, including high-resolution analysis of sedimentary facies distribution and characterization of depositional sub-environments. An idealized model of the stratigraphic evolution and depositional architecture of external levées is presented, and variations can be attributed to allogenic (for example, sediment supply) and autogenic (for example, channel migration) factors. Initiation of external levée construction is commonly marked by deposition of a basal sand-rich facies with sedimentary structures indicating rapid deposition from unconfined flows. These deposits are interpreted as frontal lobes. Propagation of the parent channel, and resultant flow confinement, lead to partial erosion of the frontal lobe and development of constructional relief (levées) by flow overspill and flow stripping. Overall fining-upwards and thinning-upwards profiles reflect increased flow confinement and/or waning flow magnitude through time. Identification of a hierarchy of levée elements is not possible due to the absence of internal bounding surfaces or sharp facies changes. The down-slope taper in levée height and increasing channel sinuosity results in increasing numbers of crevasse lobe deposits, and is reflected by the increased occurrences of channel avulsion events down-dip. External levées from the Fort Brown Formation are silt-rich; however their stratigraphic evolution and the distribution of many components (such as sediment waves and crevasse lobe) share commonalities with mud-rich external levées. This unique integrated data set has permitted the first high-resolution characterization of external submarine levée systems.