Geometry and nature of modern and ancient mass transport deposits worldwide



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Mass transport deposits form a significant portion of the rock record in both modern and ancient basins. Their geometry, composition, distribution and genesis are poorly understood, making it difficult to predict anything about these deposits in assessing subsurface basin stratigraphy or modern seafloor hazards. A tremendous effort has been made in the last few years to characterize and better understand seafloor failures in numerous margins of the world. These mass failures have triggered the interests of geologists, particularly in the oil and gas industry, as they can form prominent seals and reservoirs. To increase our knowledge base of mass transport complexes (MTCs), the characteristics of 259 siliciclastic deposits worldwide, were analyzed in terms of their volume, area, length, thickness, lithology, and tectonic settings. In some instances, MTCs were geo-referenced and digitized into ArcGIS and their dimensions were calculated. These data reveal several interesting points and suggest a number of statistically significant predictive relationships. Sand-rich mass transport deposits show a propensity to be short and thick. Muddy MTCs show a propensity to be longer and thinner. The highest number and largest volume of clastic mass transport deposits occur along passive margins. These mega-MTCs are typically muddy with lengths up to 800 km and volumes up to 5000 km3. Sandy and gravelly Quaternary-age MTCs show maximum lengths of less than 300 km and with volumes less than 2000 km3. Pre-Quaternary MTCs are systematically under-documented in literature, but known occurrences are found in passive, active and convergent margins. The largest (30,000 to 40,000 sq km) occur along the older Tertiary margin of West Africa. To date, 41 separate mass transport deposits composed dominantly of carbonate material have been identified in literature. The most extensive and voluminous (7000 km3) carbonate mass transport complexes occur in the Citronens Fjord, Offshore Greenland. They are 200m thick, Silurian-age mega-breccias that were deposited in a convergent margin setting. On comparison carbonate MTCs tend to show longer flows with coarser grain sizes, while clastics show coarser grained deposits to be of more limited length. The Mad Dog area, Gulf of Mexico is a region of active salt tectonics and mass transport processes. Consequently, it was selected to form a focus study area to test the relationships developed during this project. MTCs in this region were grouped into four main types based on their size, geomorphology and internal structure. Their geometries indicate they are comparable to MTCs found offshore Oregon and New Jersey and are most likely muddy in nature.