Plio-Pleistocene evolution of the upper continental slope, Garden Banks and East Breaks areas, northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Over 7000 sq. km of salt and six Plio-Pleistocene biostratigraphic horizons were mapped in the East Breaks and Garden Banks areas using a 12,000 km grid of seismic data and all obtainable well data. Structure mapping of allochthonous Jurassic salt and the six horizons (Globoquadrina altispira, Lenticulina 1, Angulogerina B, Hyalinea B, Trimosina A, and Sangamon Fauna) and isopachs of the intervals between these horizons revealed notable lateral variations in the area underlain by salt, in the degree of salt deformation, and in the size and thickness of associated intraslope basins. East of 94.5° W salt structures occupy 40% of the area and exhibit complex shapes that suggest a high degree of salt deformation. West of 94.5° W salt structures occupy 11% of the area and consist mostly of structurally simple salt stocks. A zone of high-offset north-south trending faults mark the transition between these two areas. Isopach maps of the six Plio-Pleistocene intervals (from 2.9 Ma to the present) reveal major shifts in the rates and locations of sediment accumulation. From 2.9 to 1.0 Ma. sediment-accumulation rates averaged only 0.8-1.3 mm/y with a maximum rate of 2.7 mm/y. From 1.0 to 0.69 Ma. sediment-accumulation rates averaged 5.8 mm/y with a maximum rate of 11.6 mm/y. This interval correlates to sediments deposited between the extinctions of Hyalinea balthica and Trimosina denticulata and recorded a major period of sediment loading/salt withdrawal between 1.0-0.69 Ma. From the end of this time to the present, sediment -accumulation rates averaged 1.7-2.1 mm/y with a maximum rate measured at 6.2 mm/y. Increased sediment influx during 1.0-0.69 Ma coincides with a major third order sea level lowstand and was focused in central Garden Banks. The restriction of such dramatically increased accumulation rates to this area suggests that sediment influx was accompanied by large-scale salt withdrawal. The increase in accommodation space created by salt withdrawal appears to be the most important factor affecting accumulation rates. Salt structural styles found on the upper continental slope are transitional between those found on the lower slope and those on the shelf. The shelf is dominated by isolated, individual salt stocks (km²) surrounded by kilometer thick sedimentary sections. The lower slope is dominated by broad, laterally continuous, allochthonous salt sheets (10³ km²) with moderate to thin sediment cover. The upper slope contains both of these structural styles plus intermediate size (10-10² km²) salt ridges and massifs. Observations made during this study suggest that differential sediment loading is the mechanism causing the changes in structural style. A Loading/Dissection model is presented to explain the formation of the three primary salt structural styles, their genetic relationship, and their observed distribution. Differential loading has dissected large salt sheets into numerous smaller and irregularly shaped ridges and stocks (like those found on the upper slope). Salt found on the upper slope originated in the Jurassic Louann Formation, but is now surrounded by Pleistocene age sediments. To achieve this relationship, it appears that some Jurassic salt has undergone at least two cycles of sediment loading and consequent diapirism. Salt/sediment relationships suggest that virtually all of the mapped salt is allochthonous. Repetitive sediment loading and salt structural development has not been previously documented and represents a step beyond the limits of current salt structural models.