Characterization, variations, and controls of reef-rimmed carbonate foreslopes

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Playton, Ted

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Allochthonous, seaward-dipping deposits that flank reef-rimmed carbonate platforms (reef-rimmed carbonate foreslopes) display a spectrum of deposit types, seismic-scale stratal architecture, and bed-scale heterogeneity due to diverse sediment sources and resedimentation processes. This variability has resulted in a lack of consistent characterization approaches, and has made the development of predictive models that link carbonate foreslope deposit types to stratal architecture challenging. This study uses data from outcrops, including the Upper Devonian of the Canning Basin, Western Australia and the Upper Permian of the Delaware Basin, West Texas, and examples from literature to provide 1) an approach for characterizing reef-rimmed carbonate foreslopes in terms of deposit types and architecture, 2) conceptual models that outline the variations that exist, and 3) discussion of the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that control the observed variations. The primary depositional elements that construct reef-rimmed carbonate foreslopes can be categorized as 1) debris elements (breccias and blocks) from brittle reef failure, 2) grain-dominated elements (grainstones and rudstones) from offbank transport of sand and gravel, and 3) mud-dominated elements (mud-dominated fabrics) that record relative foreslope quiescence and fine-grained periplatform shedding. The fundamental stratal geometries observed are 1) accretionary margins, characterized by margin-toforeslope interfingering and clinoforms, and 2) escarpment margins, characterized by aggrading-retrograding margin architecture and foreslope onlap. The combinations of element proportions, element distribution, stratal geometry, bed- to bedset-scale architecture, and depositional profile scale that exist in carbonate foreslopes range widely, warranting multiple depositional models. The deposit type and architectural variations observed in detail from Upper Devonian and Upper Permian outcrops of the Canning Basin, Western Australia, and the Delaware Basin, West Texas, respectively, are linked to differing scales of superimposed accommodation change and reef faunal assemblage. Observations from other outcrops and extensive literature review display further controlling factors that affect carbonate foreslope development, such as platform morphology, oceanographic conditions, slope height, tectonic setting, and siliciclastic input, suggesting a multi-variable interplay of controls. These controls dictate the productivity and resedimentation of the contributing sediment factories, and/or influence the development of the carbonate platform system as a whole. Knowledge and classification of carbonate foreslope deposit types, architecture, and controls not only improve understanding of these complex systems, but also allow for the development of predictive relationships for economic purposes.