Ichnology, depositional dynamics and sequence stratigraphy of the Plio-Pleistocene Orinoco Delta: Mayaro and Morne L’Enfer formations, southern Trinidad
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During the Late Pliocene and early Pleistocene, when the paleo-Orinoco delta system transited over the Amacuro Shelf and reached the paleo-shelf-break along the southeastern shoreline of Trinidad. At this time onwards, the shelf-edge delta clinoforms developed further eastward. These deltaic clastic wedges serve as the unique analog in the geological record for an accommodation-driven inner-shelf and shelf-edge delta, developed at an oblique foreland tectonic setting situated at a tropical-equatorial paleogeographic setting. These deposits were influenced by strong Atlantic longshore current, tropical storms, and phytodetrital pulses, and with an exceptionally high sediment accumulation rates. These four aspects make the clastic wedges unique candidates for sedimentological, ichnological, and stratigraphic investigation. The primary objectives of this thesis are to: (a) collect, analyze, and integrate outcrop data on lithofacies, trace fossils, and discontinuity surfaces into a comprehensive depositional and ichnological model for the first growth-fault-guided shelf-marginal pulse of the paleo-Orinoco delta, as recorded in the Mayaro Formation outcrops in southeast Trinidad; and (b) deduce the dominant sedimentary processes during the across shelf transit and their impacts on the benthic infauna as preserved in the Morne L’Enfer Formation outcrops of southwest Trinidad, which are possibly slightly older than the Mayaro Formation. The basal interval of the Morne L’Enfer Formation has specifically been investigated for this purpose, where the deltaic clastic wedges are preserved directly above shelf deposits. The entire Mayaro Formation megasequence is categorized into deposits belonging to twelve different subenvironments based on lithofacies associations and ichnological characteristics. Ichnological evidence indicates that the shelf-edge deltas are one of the most extreme marine environments for benthic metazoans to colonize. However, the combinations and ranking of stress factors affecting the colonizing fauna are diverse and distinct in every individual subenvironment indicating the relative dominances of river-influence, waves, and/or sediment-gravity-flows vis-à-vis slope instability. Due to variations in stress factors, the megasequence also displays dual ichnologic and sedimentologic properties of both the shelf-edge delta lobe(s) and the outer shelf delta lobe(s). A minor transient tidal influence can only be observed in the architectural elements, e.g. elongated interbar embayment and interlobe prodeltaic depocentres, which control topography and enhance tidal effect. Discovery of an unusual monospecific Glossifungites Ichnofacies along an incision surface in the midst of the Mayaro Formation succession enabled a substantial overhaul of the earlier understanding of the formation in terms of its depositional model and stacking pattern. The surface has been re-identified as a canyon/gully cut at the shelf-edge, which possibly acted as a conduit for (a) the mass movements and for (b) the coarse clastic (mostly silt to medium-grained sand) sediment transfer to deep marine settings. The monospecific nature of the Glossifungites Ichnofacies suite indicates that the incision surface was under substantial ecological stresses for the colonizing infauna. The stresses might have arisen from slope instability of the steep canyon/gully walls, mass movements above the incision surface, elevated water turbulence, and lowered salinity from river influx. Five different facies tracts have been identified within the canyon/gully-fill, which crosscuts the shelf-edge delta-front. The facies tracts are dominated by different types of sediment-gravity flow deposits, which are systematically stacked and are almost devoid of trace fossils due to rapid sedimentation rates and slope instability. They are also strikingly different from the surrounding deltaic facies. A high-frequency sequence stratigraphic model involving the influence of growth-fault tectonics on the relative sea-level curve has been invoked to explain the incision of the canyon/gully and its sequential filling processes. On the other hand, the transition from the open shelf to inner-shelf deltaic condition as displayed by the basal members of the Morne L’Enfer Formation is strongly dominated by evidences of river influence with the transient background action of fair-weather waves and storm waves. A peculiar pattern of disappearance of trace fossils produced by irregular sea-urchins highlight that the river influence was quite strong not only at the sediment-water interface but also in the water-column, which affected invertebrate larvae. The initial progradation of the clastic wedge on the shelf was dominated by hyperpycnal flows and waves in contrast to tidal domination in the younger members of the formation.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorBuatois, Luis A.
CommitteeMangano, Gabriela; Pratt, Brian; Aitken, Alec; Lindsay, Matt; Hubbard, Stephen
Copyright DateNovember 2015
high-resolution sequence stratigraphy