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The Pliocene-Quaternary pattern of contourite deposits on the eastern Gulf of Cadiz continental slope results from an interaction between linear diapiric ridges that are perpendicular to slope contours and the Mediterranean undercurrent that has flowed northwestward parallel to the slope contours and down valleys between the ridges since the late Miocene opening of the Strait of Gibraltar. Coincident with the northwestward decrease in undercurrent speeds from the Strait there is the following northwestward gradation of sediment facies associations: (1) upper slope facies, (2) sand dune facies on the upstream mid-slope terrace, (3) large mud wave facies on the lower slope, (4) sediment drift facies banked against the diapiric ridges, and (5) valley facies between the ridges. The southeastern sediment drift facies closest to Gibraltar contains medium-fine sand beds interbedded with mud. The adjacent valley floor facies is composed of gravelly, shelly coarse to medium sand lags and large sand dunes on the valley margins. Compared to this, the northwestern drift contains coarse silt interbeds and the adjacent valley floors exhibit small to medium sand dunes of fine sand. Further northwestward, sediment drift grades to biogenous silt near the Faro Drift at the Portuguese border. Because of the complex pattern of contour-parallel and valley-perpendicular flow paths of the Mediterranean undercurrent, the larger-scale bedforms and coarser-grained sediment of valley facies trend perpendicular to the smaller-scale bedforms and finer-grained contourite deposits of adjacent sediment drift facies. The bottom-current deposits of valleys and the contourites of the Cadiz slope intervalley areas are distinct from turbidite systems. The valley sequences are not aggradational like turbidite channel-levee complexes, but typically exhibit bedrock walls against ridges, extensive scour and fill into adjacent contourites, transverse bedform fields and bioclastic lag deposits. Both valley and contourite deposits exhibit reverse graded bedding and sharp upper bed contacts in coarse-grained layers, low deposition rates, and a regional pattern of bedform zones, textural variation, and compositional gradation. The surface sandy contourite layer of 0.2-1.2 m thickness that covers the Gulf of Cadiz slope has formed during the present Holocene high sea level because high sea level results in maximum water depth over the Gibraltar sill and full development of the Mediterranean undercurrent. The late Pleistocene age of the mud underlying the surface sand sheet correlates with the age of the last sea-level lowstand and apparent weak Mediterranean undercurrent development. Thus, the cyclic deposition of sand or mud layers and contourite or drape sequences appear to be related to late Pliocene and Quaternary sea-level changes and Mediterranean water circulation patterns. Since its Pliocene origin, the contourite sequence has had low deposition rates of < 5 cm/1000y on the upper slope and < 13 cm/1000y in the middle slope sediment drift. ?? 1993.
Additional Publication Details
Mediterranean undercurrent sandy contourites, Gulf of Cadiz, Spain