The Miocene Marnoso-arenacea Formation (Italy) is the only ancient sequence where deposits of individual submarine density flow deposits have been mapped in detail for long (>100 km) distances, thereby providing unique information on how such flows evolve. These beds were deposited by large and infrequent flows in a low-relief basin plain. An almost complete lack of bed amalgamation aids bed correlation, and resembles some modern abyssal plains, but contrasts with ubiquitous bed amalgamation seen in fan-lobe deposits worldwide. Despite the subdued topography of this basin plain, the beds have a complicated character. Previous work showed that a single flow can commonly comprise both turbidity current and cohesive mud-rich debris flows. The debris flows were highly mobile on low gradients, but their deposits are absent in outcrops nearest to source. Similar hybrid beds have been documented in numerous distal fan deposits worldwide, and they represent an important process for delivering sediment into the deep ocean. It is therefore important to understand their origin and flow dynamics. To account for the absence of debrites in proximal Marnoso-arenacea Formation outcrops, it was proposed that debris flows originated within the study area due to erosion of mud-rich seafloor; we show that this is incorrect. Clast and matrix composition show that sediment within the cohesive debris flows originated outside the study area.
Previous work showed that intermediate and low strength debris flows produced different downflow-trending facies tracts. Here, we show that intermediate strength debris flows entered the study area as debris flows, while low strength (clast poor) debris flows most likely formed through local transformation from an initially turbulent mud-rich suspension. New field data document debrite planform shape across the basin plain. Predicting this shape is important for subsurface oil and gas reservoirs. Low strength and intermediate strength debrites have substantially different planform shapes. However, the shape of each type of debrite is consistent. Low strength debrites occur in two tongues at the margins of the outcrop area, while intermediate strength debrite forms a single tongue near the basin center. Intermediate strength debrites are underlain by a thin layer of structureless clean sandstone that may have settled out from the debris flow at a late stage, as seen in laboratory experiments, or been deposited by a forerunning turbidity current that is closely linked to the debris flow. Low strength debrites can infill relief created by underlying dune crests, suggesting gentle emplacement. Dewatering of basal clean sand did not cause a long runout of debris flows in this location. Hybrid beds are common in a much thicker stratigraphic interval than was studied previously, and the same two types of debrite occur there. Hybrid flows transported large volumes (as much as 10 km3 per flow) of sediment into this basin plain, over a prolonged period of time.
- Received 27 June 2011.
- Revision received 22 February 2012.
- Accepted 14 May 2012.
- © 2012 Geological Society of America