The impact of evolving current rheology on multi-scale heterogeneity in submarine lobe strata: an example from the Upper Cretaceous Point Loma Formation, San Diego, California

Monday, 15 December 2014
Anthony McGlown, David C Mohrig and Mauricio M Perillo, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, United States
Increasing recognition of transitional flow deposits in submarine fans has shown that the evolution of flow rheology in sediment-gravity currents can have a significant impact on the heterogeneity of deepwater sediment accumulations. Sea-cliff exposure of the Cretaceous Point Loma Formation in San Diego, California, provides a unique opportunity to document the internal variability and spatial distribution of thin, fine-grained event beds. Upper portions of beds which commonly appear as featureless mud in exposures of typical quality are revealed as thin, clast-rich debrites in areas where sea cliffs are polished by waves. The ubiquity of these deposits in distal lobe strata suggests complex rheological evolution for nearly all currents that were able to run out to lobe margins. Here we supplement qualitative outcrop characterization with statistical analysis to quantify relationships between deposit thickness, grain size, and the spatial distribution of sedimentary facies. Intervals dominated by transitional flow deposits are shown to occur vertically near the base of coarsening-upward successions and laterally toward lobe margins, reflecting a combination of dynamic processes during individual events and the spatial distribution of consecutive deposits. We show that the ability to distinguish patterns of bed-scale variability reflecting flow evolution from patterns associated with larger-scale processes, such as distributary channel avulsion and compensational stacking, is critical if one is to accurately model heterogeneity within submarine fan systems. Furthermore, the observation that thin, fine-grained debrites can be nearly impossible to distinguish from featureless mud intervals unless exceptionally well-exposed may cast doubt on existing interpretations where outcrop quality is less than remarkable.