The late Quaternary pattern of sedimentary facies on the Spanish Gulf of Cadiz continental shelf results from an interaction between a number of controlling factors that are dominated by the Atlantic inflow currents flowing southeastward across the Cadiz shelf toward the Strait of Gibraltar. An inner shelf shoreface sand facies formed by shoaling waves is modified by the inflow currents to form a belt of sand dunes at 10-20 m that extends deeper and obliquely down paleo-valleys as a result of southward down-valley flow. A mid-shelf Holocene mud facies progrades offshore from river mouth sources, but Atlantic inflow currents cause extensive progradation along shelf toward the southeast. Increased inflow current speeds near the Strait of Gibraltar and the strong Mediterranean outflow currents there result in lack of mud deposition and development of a reworked transgressive sand dune facies across the entire southernmost shelf. At the outer shelf edge and underlying the mid-shelf mud and inner shelf sand facies is a late Pleistocene to Holocene transgressive sand sheet formed by the eustatic shoreline advance. The late Quaternary pattern of contourite deposits on the Spanish Gulf of Cadiz continental slope results from an interaction between linear diapiric ridges that are oblique to slope contours and the Mediterranean outflow current flowing northwestward parallel to the slope contours and down valleys between the ridges. Coincident with the northwestward decrease in outflow current speeds from the Strait there is the following northwestward gradation of contourite sediment facies: (1) upper slope sand to silt bed 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. By comparison, the northwestern drift contains coarse silt interbeds and the adjacent valley floors exhibit small to medium sand dunes of fine sand. Because of the complex pattern of contour-parallel and valley-perpendicular flow paths of the Mediterranean outflow current, 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. Radiocarbon ages verify that the inner shelf shoreface sand facies (sedimentation rate 7.1 cm/kyr), mid-shelf mud facies (maximum rate 234 cm/kyr) and surface sandy contourite layer of 0.2-1.2 m thickness on the Cadiz slope (1-12 cm/kyr) have deposited during Holocene time when high sea level results in maximum water depth over the Gibraltar sill and full development of the Atlantic inflow and Mediterranean outflow currents. The transgressive sand sheet of the shelf, and the mud layer underlying the surface contourite sand sheet of the slope, correlate, respectively, with the late Pleistocene sea level lowstand and apparent weak Mediterranean outflow current.
Additional publication details
Influence of the Atlantic inflow and Mediterranean outflow currents on late Quaternary sedimentary facies of the Gulf of Cadiz continental margin