Sediment movement and dispersal patterns on the Grand Banks continental shelf and slope were tied to the dynamics of the Laurentide ice-sheet margin
Abstract:The expansion and contraction of the late Pleistocene Laurentide ice-sheet (LIS) was the crucial determining factor for the geomorphic features and shelf and slope sediment mobility on the eastern Canadian continental margin, with abundant mass-transport deposits (MTDs) seaward of ice margins on the upper slope. Here, we report for the first time sediment failure and mass-transport deposits from the central Grand Banks slope in the Salar and Carson petroleum basins. High-resolution seismic profiles and multibeam bathymetry show numerous sediment failure scarps in 500-1600 m water depth. There is no evidence for an ice margin on the upper slope younger than MIS 6.
Centimeter-scale X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF), grain size, and oxygen isotope data from piston cores constrain sediment processes over the past 46 ka. Geotechnical measurements including Atterberg limit tests, vane shear measurements and triaxial and multi-stage isotropic consolidation tests allowed us to assess the instability on the continental margin. Cores with continuous undisturbed stratigraphy in contourite silty muds show normal downcore increase in bulk density and undrained peak shear strength. Heinrich (H) layers are identifiable by a marked increase in the bulk density, high Ca (ppm), increase in iceberg-rafted debris and lighter δ18O in the polar planktonic foram Neogloboquadrina pachyderma (sinistral): with a few C-14 dates they provide a robust chronology. There is no evidence for significant supply of sediment from the Grand Banks at the last-glacial maximum. Mass-transport deposits (MTD) are marked by variability in the bulk density, undrained shear strength and little variation in bulk density or Ca (ppm) values. The MTD are older than 46 ka on the central Grand Banks slope, whereas younger MTDs are present in southern Flemish Pass. Factor of safety calculations suggest the slope is statically stable up to gradients of 10°, but more intervals of silty mud may fail during earthquake-induced cyclic loading based on Atterberg tests. By analogy with the Holocene, contourites deposited in MIS 5e may be particularly silty and form a “weak layer” susceptible to failure.