Unreciprocated sedimentation along a mud-dominated continental margin, Gulf of Mexico, U.S.A.: Implications for sequence stratigraphy in muddy settings devoid of depositional sequences
According to widely accepted sequence stratigraphic and fill-and-spill models, sedimentary cyclicity along continental margins is modulated by relative sea-level change, whereas smaller-scale intraslope accommodation is controlled by the filling of pre-existing bathymetric depressions. Although these concepts are presumed to apply to shelf-to-slope settings regardless of grain size, we have tested both hypotheses in the mud-prone lower Pliocene to Holocene of offshore Louisiana, Gulf of Mexico, and reach different conclusions. We determine that over the last ~3.7 Myr, differential accumulation and accompanying salt tectonism dislocated the fine-grained shelf and slope, prevented the development of sedimentary reciprocity at 10-100 kyr time scales, and inhibited fill-and-spill accumulation. We show that only 3% of ''lowstand'' mass transport deposits can be correlated to low stands in relative sea level, whereas approximately 30% of the deposits are related to transgressions and high stands; the remaining 67% are poorly constrained. Mass transport deposits also show no clear evidence of up-section increases in bypass. Based on our results, we conclude that the dominant control on stratigraphic architecture in offshore Louisiana was not relative sea-level change or patterns of accommodation, but rather differential deposition and concomitant salt-related subsidence, which controlled the distribution of facies, timing and location of mass transport deposits, and rates of sediment accumulation. Our conclusions highlight the importance of sediment supply and local tectonism, and caution against a priori use of conventional sequence stratigraphic and fill-and-spill models to decipher the stratigraphic evolution of actively-deforming mud-dominated continental margins. We therefore recommend treating stratigraphic models as testable hypotheses, rather than as methods of interpretation, particularly in fine-grained areas devoid of well-developed depositional sequences and in settings lacking intraslope ponded-to-perched accumulations.
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