Widely used sequence stratigraphic models predict that specific facies assemblages alternate in the stratigraphy of deep-sea fans, depending on the cyclic nature of sea-level variations. Our work tests this assumption through facies reconstruction of submarine fans that are growing in a small basin along the tectonically active Sicilian margin. Connected canyons have heads close to the coastline; they can be river connected or littoral cell–connected, the first receiving sediment from hyperpycnal flows, the latter intercepting shelf sediment dispersal pathways. Hyperpycnal flows directly discharge river-born sediment into the head of the river-connected canyon and originate a large turbidite fan. A drift formed by the longshore redistribution of sediment of a nearby delta introduces sediment to the head of the littoral cell–connected canyon, forming turbidity currents that flow within the canyon to reach the basin plain. However, since sediment failure and landslide processes are common in the slope part of the system, a mixed fan, consisting of both turbidites and mass-transport deposits, is formed. Disconnected canyons, with heads at the shelf edge far from the coastline, are fed by canyon head and levee-wedge failures, resulting in mass-transport or mixed fan deposition, the latter developing when the seafloor gradient or the lithology of the failed sediment allows turbidity current formation. Connected canyons form in areas with high uplift rates, where the shelf is narrow and steep and the shelf edge is at a relatively shallow depth. Disconnected canyons develop where there are lower uplift rates or subsidence, where the shelf is large and relatively gentle with a deeper shelf edge. It is deduced that the relative vertical movements of fault-bound blocks control whether canyons are connected to the coast at the present day. The role of tectonics in controlling the canyon feeding processes and the facies of submarine fan growth during highstand periods is therefore highlighted. A further view that arises from our paper is that in active margins, the slope portion of fan systems, through seafloor instability and variations in channel gradient, is a key factor in determining the final deep-sea fan facies, regardless of the distance between the coast and the canyon. The concomitant growth of turbidites, mass-transport deposits, and mixed fans demonstrates that models that predict changes in submarine fan facies on the basis of sea-level cycles do not necessarily apply to systems developed along tectonically active margins.
- Received 23 January 2014.
- Revision received 1 August 2014.
- Accepted 30 January 2015.
- © 2015 Geological Society of America