Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Sedimentary texture--a key to interpret deep-marine dynamics

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  • The processes responsible for transporting and depositing thick sections of coarse-grained terrigenous clastics on the abyssal floor and for forming associated sedimentary structures are still conjectural. Many workers attribute coarse deep-sea sediments and their probable lithified equivalent, the graywackes of flysch deposits to some type of density movement. Deductions concerning the processes operating in a density flow generally are made from flume studies--in which an artificial situation may develop, or from lithified units--where the magnitude of post-depositional change is unknown. Both approaches contribute to our knowledge, but the unconsolidated elastics themselves should contain a unique key to understanding the dynamics of abyssal sedimentation. To test this theory, divisions of parallel lamination, found in deep-sea sand and silt, were selected for analysis. Since individual laminae closely approach discrete populations of particles assembled under contrasting conditions, their use carries environmental sampling to its practical limits. Northeast Pacific sediments of late Pleistocene and Holocene age, from deep-sea channel and abyssal plain environments, and representing two or three provenances were studied. A total of 115 light-colored and 84 dark-colored laminae were sampled from eight sequences at five locations. Samples averaged about 0.8 gram and were quantitatively processed using quarter-phi calibrated sieves and decantation techniques. Statistical evaluation of the procedure shows better than 95 percent sample recovery, and indicates that textural variance between laminae is significantly greater than within-sample variance. The classic concept of density transport--that coarsest material is carried by the nose of the current, and that clastic size grades tail-ward and upward in a uniformly decreasing manner--is not substantiated by moment measures, sand-silt-clay percentages or factor analysis of grain-size distributions, at least during deposition of the coarse division of parallel lamination. Coarse abyssal lamination develops within a narrow range of current velocity, the limits of which are defined texturally. Absolute velocity values for these limits can only be related, at the present time, to the few flume or in situ bottom current measurements available. Texture indicates that while the total amount of sand carried in suspension varies, lamination does not begin to form until a current is essentially depleted of all material coarser than fine sand--establishing an upper competency limit. At that time, coarse suspended material is distributed throughout the flow mostly in large eddies or vortices whose velocities are estimated on the order of about one meter/sec. Mean current velocity must be sufficient to maintain a dispersed traction carpet without deformation of bedform into ripples. This is postulated at about 50 cm/sec. A current model, based on textural evidence, is proposed to account for lamination. It is suggested that the critical stage in the formation of coarse abyssal lamination occurs while sediment is being dragged along the bottom as bedload. The flowing clastic traction carpet acquires kinetic energy as the current bypasses material lost from suspension. In turn, this energy results in grain shear. When the concentration of granular material in traction is large, it dissipates the energy of bottom shear mostly in collision contacts between gliding grains. The dispersive stresses developed tend to maintain grain separation and prevent settling. Eventually, turbulence in seawater entrapped between grains is suppressed and the net path of grans impelled by repeated collisions becomes quasi-laminar. Within this quasi-laminar traction system, dispersive pressure causes some migration of finer sizes toward the base of the carpet and a concentration of coarser grains in the upper bedload. As new material is introduced in large quantities from suspension, the zone of internal shear--the base of the moving carpet--is displaced progressively upward. As it passes, sediment compacts to a fraction of its dispersed thickness and a population of grains with a slightly finer size distribution than the carpet load comes to rest. This is buried by new deposition and a densely-packed, dark layer continues to accrete upward as long as a moving traction carpet is sustained and a dense rain of clastics is contributed from suspension. When a sand-laden eddy impinges on the bottom, it releases its coarsest load into traction and the dark layer then accreting increases significantly in grains larger than 44 microns. Any eddy, whether laden or not, on striking bottom adds to, or deducts its velocity from the velocity of the traction carpet and either increases or decreases bottom shear. Additional impulse given to tractive shear by eddies merely results in more effective size sorting. However, an eddy whose velocity of rotation is opposed to current movement may reduce shear below the critical necessary to maintain a thick carpet by dispersive pressure, The dispersed carpet collapses and instantaneously ceases moving. This less-densely packed layer has a slightly higher sand content than the accreted material below. When partially dried or weathered, alternate layers exhibit different moisture retention properties--the less-porous, accreted layers appearing dark and the more loosely packed layers appearing light.
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