This study provides an integrated view of the growth patterns and factors that controlled the evolution of the Gulf of Cadiz continental margin based on studies of the tectonic, sedimentologic and oceanographic history of the area. Seven sedimentary regimes are identified, but there are more extensive descriptions of the late Cenozoic regimes because of the larger data base. The regimes of the Mesozoic passive margin include carbonate platforms, which become mixed calcareous-terrigenous deposits during the Late Cretaceous-early Tertiary. The Oligocene and Early Miocene terrigenous regimes developed, in contrast, over the active and transcurrent margins near the African-Iberian plate boundary. The top of the Gulf of Cadiz olistostrome, emplaced in the Late Miocene, is used as a key horizon to define the 'post-orogenic' depositional regimes. The Late Miocene progradational margin regime is characterized by a large terrigenous sediment supply to the margin and coincides with the closing of the Miocene Atlantic-Mediterranean gateways. The terrigenous drift depositional regime of the Early Pliocene resulted from the occurrence of high eustatic sea level and the characteristics of the Mediterranean outflow currents that developed after the opening of the Strait of Gibraltar. The Late Pliocene and Quaternary regimes are dominated by sequences of deposits related to cycles of high and low sea levels. Deposition of shelf-margin deltas and slope wedges correlate with regressive and low sea level regimes caused by eustasy and subsidence. During the highstand regimes of the Holocene, inner shelf prograding deltas and deep-water sediment drifts were developed under the influence of the Atlantic inflow and Mediterranean outflow currents, respectively. A modern human cultural regime began 2000 years ago with the Roman occupation of Iberia; human cultural effects on sedimentary regimes may have equalled natural factors such as climate change. Interplay of tectonic and oceanographic controls dominated the evolution of the Cadiz margin during the Cenozoic. Depositional sequences formed where the tectonic setting provided the accommodation space and the shape of the deposits has been greatly influenced by the strong unidirectional Atlantic inflow currents on the shelf and Mediterranean outflow currents on the slope. The entire cycle of the inflow and outflow deposition along the margin has been controlled first by the tectonic evolution of the Betic and Rif gateways, which become closed during the Late Miocene, and after the Messinian by the opening of the Strait of Gibraltar. Strong current development during eustatic sea level highstands of the Pliocene and Quaternary has controlled deposition because of maximum sill depths at Gibraltar for water circulation. Lowstand sea levels slowed circulation and resulted in mud drapes over the slope and regressive stratigraphic sequences over the shelf. More recently, the human industrial revolution has caused heavy metal contamination of sediment and water over the Cadiz margin. Human activity also has affected sedimentation rates because of deforestation that caused increased depositional rates near undammed rivers and decreased rates where rivers have been dammed. Future research efforts will need to focus on: (1) the effect of increased Mediterranean outflow caused by river damming plus global warming and the increased outflow as a potential trigger for new ice ages; (2) assessments of geologic hazards for planning man-made shoreline structures, developing offshore petroleum resources and maintaining undersea communications cables; and (3) confirmation of the general geologic history of the Cadiz margin.
Additional publication details
Interaction of tectonic and depositional processes that control the evolution of the Iberian Gulf of Cadiz margin