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Geological Society, London, Special Publications

Cool-water carbonate deposition on the West Shetland


Shelf: a modern distally steepened ramp
Janice M. Light and John B. Wilson
Geological Society, London, Special Publications 1998, v.149;
p73-105.
doi: 10.1144/GSL.SP.1999.149.01.06

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Notes

The Geological Society of London 2013

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Cool-water carbonate deposition on the West Shetland Shelf: a


modern distally steepened ramp
J A N I C E M. L I G H T & J O H N B. W I L S O N

Department o f Geology, Royal Holloway University o f London, Egham, TW20 OEX, UK


Abstract: The West Shetland Shelf (WSS) is part of a carbonate province ranging through

11~of latitude on the western seaboard of the British Isles. Bioclastic gravels and sands and
quartzitic shelly sediments, ranging in thickness from a few centimetres to 2 m have been
accumulating since the Flandrian transgression (13 ka BP). A storm wave-base is recognized
at the shelf margin (200 m) below which deposits are winnowed and reworked by an upper
slope northerly-flowingcontour current. Samples from a 143 km transect of 15 stations from
the south of Shetland to 260 m on the upper continental slope have been analysed. Bivalve
molluscs, barnacles and attached serpulids are the major carbonate contributors with bryozoans, gastropods and echinoderms of secondary importance. The free-living serpulid
Ditrupa arietinaand erect branching bryozoans are important sediment contributors on the
outer shelf. The deep-water coral, Lophelia pertusa, has been recorded from depths of
200-500 m.
The WSS is a distally steepened carbonate ramp shelving at an angle of <1~ to the open
ocean with continual sweeping of long-period waves, frequent storms and deep-water
contour currents.
Biogenic carbonates are forming and accumulating extensively on the continental shelf west
and north of the British Isles on an open ocean
facing, distally steepened ramp that ranges
through 11~ of latitude, over a distance of 1680
km from northwest of Shetland to south of the
Isles of Scilly off southwest England. This northwest European continental shelf is influenced by
the circulation of open ocean water from the
North Atlantic and by storms and strong tidal
currents, with local and regional modification
resulting from the varied geography and topography, reflecting the diverse geological structure
of the British Isles.
The depositional environments of the calcium
carbonate secreting communities generating
these sediments have been the focus of a number
of studies in southwest England, west of Ireland,
along the west coast of Scotland and around the
Orkney and Shetland Isles. Some of these
studies have b e e n concentrated on inshore
waters around Connemara in western Ireland
(Buller 1969; Lees et al. 1969; Bosence 1976a, b;
Gunatilaka 1977; Piessens & Lees 1977), where
carbonate sediments featuring shallow-water
coralline algal-dominated gravels and shell
sands composed of molluscs, barnacles,
foraminiferans, echinoderms and bryozoans in
varying proportions are widely distributed in
M a n n i n and Clifden Bays. In the western
English Channel, data collected over some 80
years (Allen 1899; Ford 1923; Smith 1932;
Holme 1953, 1961, 1966; Flemming & Stride
1967; Probert 1973, Carthew & Bosence 1986)
on the Eddystone shell gravels occurring around

rock outcrops at 60 m depth provide valuable


information on the long-term community structure in this environment and its relationship to
the accumulating death assemblage.
The nearshore and shallow-water carbonate
sediments west of Scotland and around the
Inner and Outer Hebrides (Fig. 1) have been
studied by Farrow (1974, 1983) and Farrow et al.
(1978, 1979). Other studies extended the knowledge of this area to depths of 200 m (Scoffin
1988; Wilson 1979a, 1982a). Some studies have
considered the taphonomic aspects of these sediments such as bioerosion of shells and carbonate
grains were the focus of work by A k p a n &
Farrow (1984, 1985). North of Scotland, carbonate sediments are extensive and have been
investigated around Orkney (Allen et al. 1979;
Farrow et al. 1984) and more widely on the north
Scottish open shelf (Wilson 1979a, 1982a, 1986,
1988). Investigations into the deeper-water carbonates have focused on Porcupine Bank
(200-500 m) (Scoffin et al. 1980; Scoffin & Bowes
1988) and Rockall Bank (120-350 m) (Wilson
1979a, c).
Although this previous work has increased
knowledge of the distribution of the facies, bedforms and communities of the biogenic carbonates in the British province, no synthesis of the
entire continental shelf-shelf margin-continental slope e n v i r o n m e n t and of its associated
process models has been attempted.
This paper focuses on the carbonate-producing communities and sedimentology on the West
Shetland Shelf (WSS) (Fig. 1), which have not
previously been studied from coast to slope, and

LIGHT,J. M. & WILSON,J. B. 1998. Cool-water carbonate deposition on the West Shetland Shelf: a modern
distally steepened ramp. In: WRIGHT,V. E & BURCHETTE,T. P. (eds) CarbonateRamps. Geological Society,
London, Special Publications, 149, 73-105.

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74

J.M. L I G H T & J. B. WILSON

8*W

6"

4*

61"N -N-

I
"3

SHETLRFID

60*

f
~ Fair Isle

_~ ORKNEY

NORTH
SEA

SCOTLAND
t

- -

2 0 0 rn - -

200 km

B a t h y m e t r y in metres

Transect line

Fig. 1. Location of North Scottish Continental Shelf, bathymetry and line of transect across the West Shetland
Shelf. Q, Quendale; S, Sumburgh Head.

of which there have hitherto been no detailed


studies. Although Howson (1988) and Pearson
et al. (1994) have defined biotopes within the
nearshore subtidal sediments and associated
communities around Shetland and Foula, data
are lacking for the deposits and the associated
calcareous macrofauna that are accumulating
across the WSS and onto the continental slope.
This paper attempts: (1) to define WSS sediment
types and their associated benthos from a
transect of sea-bed samples from coast to slope;
(2) to synthesize these data with nearshore
information and additional data from the continental slope along the direction of the transect
line, to define inner ramp to deep ramp facies;
(3) to consider the physical and depositional
environment, the nature of the sediments, the
relative contributions of the biota to these sediments and the ecology and sites of occurrence of
some of the important sediment forming

organisms in the West Shetland system; (4) to


compare and contrast the WSS with analogous
cool-water systems in South Australia and New
Zealand, (5) to assess the WSS as an analogue
for an ancient cool-water distally steepened
carbonate ramp.

Dataset and methods


This paper is based on data collected as part of a
major study into the biogenic carbonate sediments on the continental shelf north and west of
Scotland. These data were obtained during
cruises in 1972 (R.R.S. John Murray Cruise 6,
Cartwright & Wilson 1972) and 1974 (R.R.S.
Challenger Cruise 14/74, Wilson 1975). Commencing at Station 138 (59~
01~
(Fig. 2), a transect of 15 stations to the upper continental slope on a bearing of 310~ was sampled
over a distance of 143 km. Data from two

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES


additional stations (M49 and M65), along the
transect line sampled on the 1972 cruise, have
also been incorporated. Sonographs (side-scan
sonar records) were obtained on both cruises.
Benthic and sediment samples were mainly
taken using the Smith McIntyre grab, which collects a relatively undisturbed sample with a
surface area of 0.1 m 2. Two stations on the upper
slope were sampled by rock dredge and one
station was investigated using the Institute of
Oceanographic Sciences (IOS) Mark III towed
television and camera sledge. Shipboard processing of samples involved the removal and preservation of live macrofauna, sediment sampling
(1-6 litres depending on sediment texture), and
the sieving of the remainder using a mesh range
of 1-4 mm to reduce the volume to manageable
proportions. These samples were preserved in
industrial methylated spirit. The grab samples
were sub-sampled for dry-sieving (0.5+ intervals)

4~
I

3~
I

75

using a mechanical shaker for 20 min (Table 1)


and a second sample, of grains >1 mm, was sorted
into faunal components and lithic fragments.
Percentages were determined by weight (Table
2). Sediments have been classified, facies defined
and described, and equivalent rock names have
been assigned to the sediments (Table 3). The
live and dead shell-bearing fauna and some soft
macroinvertebrates present in the samples have
been identified to species level where possible. A
total of 171 potentially preservable benthic taxa
have been recognized.

Geological setting
Location
The West Shetland Continental Shelf spans an
area of c. 46 500 km 2 northwest of Scotland and
west of Orkney and Shetland (Fig. 1). Below the

2~
__.'1

l~
I

j/

61~

1651

-,.

~/i------

156"/

60~

61~

60~

...,' :.* '::

9 159

~
/ 158 ~ _ 1 6 0
.......~.... I
M49 9 i
161--

--

--O14/

~146

Foula ~

/--

,~

"Shetland

-.~-~

~1~.65
142 ~ 0141
1409

WEST SHETLAND
SHELF

011~39

138 Qq

r
"' ~t.~'e~4

.,~.Fair
~'lsle

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...... i ~ : " i ~ = r k n e y

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59~

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Mainl~

North Sea

i
4ow
200 m

.......

138 9

- ~
~- - -

3~

2~
Bathymetry in metres
Sampling
Station

I~
I

0 o

100 k m

Upper Slope Current of Northwest Europe


Norwegian Sea Deep Water

Fig. 2. Map showing sampling stations across West Shetland Shelf. Q, Quendale; S, Sumburgh Head.

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76

J.M. L I G H T & J. B. W I L S O N

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES

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78

J.M. L I G H T & J. B. W I L S O N

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES


200 m depth contour, which marks the shelf
edge, the continental slope falls to 1000 m in the
Faeroe-Shetland Channel before rising again
some 130 km northwestwards to the Faeroe
Shelf. Towards the southern end of the
Faeroe-Shetland Channel, the east-west trending Wyville-Thomson Ridge rises to <400 m
water depth, and delineates the northernmost
boundary of the Rockall Trough with the
Faeroe-Shetland Basin (Fig. 1). The area is on
the northeast Atlantic passive margin and has a
low-gradient slope from the shoreline to the
North Atlantic basin.

Quaternary glacial h&tory


The Quaternary period was a time of numerous
cycles of climatic change with associated periodic growth and contraction of ice sheets over
much of the British Isles (Jones & Keen 1993).
During early Pleistocene time, glacial activity
was largely to the north of the area but in midPleistocene time (Anglian stage, 0.44 Ma) major
ice-sheet activity first affected the area, and ice
sheets are believed to have extended to the edge
of the Hebrides Shelf and delivered ice-marginal
sediments directly to the continental slope
(Stoker 1990). Two further major glaciation
events occurred during Devensian time. The
base of the glacial succession is characterized by
a sub-horizontal, locally irregular erosion
surface.

Depositional environment
Bathymetry and sea-floor topography
The coastal margin of the area consists of a
rugged island coastline with stretches of cliffs and
rocky shores punctuated by inlets ('voes').
Locally, spits, bars and tombolas of glacially
derived gravel and sand occur around Orkney
and Shetland. Cliffs up to 300 m high on the west
coast of Shetland plunge steeply to depths of
50-75 m before the sea floor gradually flattens
out to a gently sloping shelf (Fig. 3). On the WSS,
the inner to mid-shelf sea bed from mainland
Scotland north to Shetland is relatively flat and
water depths range from 70 to 100 m. The outer
shelf (>100 111 depth) has low-amplitude highs
and depressions with a relief of 20-50 m (Stoker
et al. 1993). On the outer WSS, a series of
distinctive ridges runs parallel to the shelf edge
and glacially overdeepened channels occur
northwards from west of Orkney and Foula. On
the shelf beyond the north coast of Scotland,
average angles of seaward slopes range from
about 0.07~ to 0.2~ The shelf break generally

79

occurs at c. 200 m depth on the WSS, although


within the region its actual depth ranges from 120
to 250 m. It occurs at depths of 500 m on the
Wyville-Thomson Ridge, which marks the southern margin of the West Shetland Channel, and
forms a barrier preventing the mixing of the cold
Arctic and Norwegian Sea Deep Water (NSDW)
with the warmer water of the north-east Atlantic
(Aiken et al. 1977). This hydrographic barrier
results in some abrupt changes in the bottom
fauna (Hayward & Ryland 1990). The palaeoshelf break has been reconstructed by Stoker et
al. (1993) to show that since earliest Pleistocene
time the shelf has prograded to the northwest by
up to 50 km, although the shelf break was eroded
west of the Outer Hebrides and north of Shetland in the post-Anglian interval.

Hydrography and wave climate


There are no areas of strong upwelling around
the British Isles but the western seaboard of the
British Isles experiences fluctuating gradients of
changing physical factors related to the residual
flow of the North Atlantic Drift. Despite annual
fluctuations in the rate of flow, volume and
course of the North Atlantic Drift, and modifications to current patterns by seasonal effects
such as wind and temperature, the overall circulation pattern remains constant. It flows northeast past the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland
with partial deflection into the Celtic Sea south
of Ireland. Continuing northeastwards, the flow
diverges again north of Scotland, where a
secondary stream turns south into the northern
North Sea. The 200 m (shelf break) and 100 m
isobaths are believed to partially control these
trends (Hayward & Ryland 1990).
The waters of the WSS are predominantly
influenced by a northeastward flowing current
along the upper slope (Kenyon 1986), termed
the Upper Slope Current of Northwest Europe
(USCNE), and by the dense cold southwestward
flowing NSDW below depths of 500-600 m (Fig.
2). The USCNE follows the upper continental
slope poleward and generates asymmetric
ripples and barchanoid sand waves of 0.5-2 m
height. It flows parallel to the upper slope of
northwest Europe over a distance of 3000 km
from the southern Malin Sea off western Ireland
into the Norwegian Sea, where it becomes the
Norwegian Current (Kenyon 1986). Recorded
velocities of this current between May and September (1979) frequently exceed 20 cm/s at
depths of 90-490 m (Booth & Ellett 1983), and
current-meter data reveal peak flows of 15-25
cm/s at depths of 1035 m and 457 m (Howe &
Humphery 1995). The distribution of bedforms

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80

J.M. L I G H T & J. B. W I L S O N

. ,,,,~

. ,,,,~
,.~

~.~

~se,
o m'~

~,.~

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES


and the position of the 'mudline' (sand-mud
boundary) show that the core of this current
reaches down to 400-600 m, south of the sill on
the Wyville-Thomson Ridge, and down to
600-800 m in the Norwegian Sea (Kenyon 1986).
Internal waves form on the interface between
Atlantic Water and the underlying NSDW and
are controlled by a vertical density gradient. The
interface lies c. 500 m below the surface and
results in incursions of cold water from time to
time onto the shelf, accompanied by relatively
strong currents (sea-bed surges). They are manifested by a sudden increase of current speed,
sometimes very brief and localized to one particular depth, but at other times lasting some
hours and affecting much of the water column
(BP Exploration 1996). High concentrations of
suspended matter near the shelf edge can be
caused by internal waves, storms or tides (Karl
et al. 1983). The effects of internal waves and
currents (both tidal and unidirectional) on sedimentation patterns on the distal middle and
outer shelf are significant in that the zone comprising the outer continental shelf and shelf edge
is frequently where open ocean water meets, and
interacts with, the continental shelf waters, and
more nearshore circulation patterns. Even in
deep water, internal waves near the bottom can
move sediment and form ripple marks, as well as
mix nutrient-rich water (Lafond 1961).
The British Isles are affected by the dominant
westerly winds with a long fetch across the North
Atlantic (Draper 1980), whose strength is much
greater in winter than in summer (Neu 1984). A
maximum value of 45 m/s with an average recurrence period of 50 years is given for northwest
Ireland, the Outer Hebrides, and Shetland and
Orkney (Noble Denton 1985). This value was
recorded as recently as December 1992 (Phillips
1995), when gusts of 144 km/h (40 m/s) lashed
the west coast of the British Isles, and sustained
winds of nearly 120 km/h were recorded.
Winds from SSW, WSW and W tend to be
most frequent and speeds in the 50-60 km/h
(near gale) and >67 km/h (gale force or more)
categories occur, with frequencies of 7.9% and
6.8%, respectively, over the whole year, but
most frequently between November and March,
when they occur for at least 3 days each month.
Winds can reach speeds of 104 to >118 km/h
(Force 11-12) during S e p t e m b e r - A p r i l (BP
Exploration 1996).
Atlantic waves measured at stations 20~ of
the British Isles are much larger than those from
any nearshore stations. For example, in the
winter the significant wave heights (highest 33 %
of waves) exceed 4 m for 50% of the time,
whereas the values for the exposed station off

81

Land's End are 2.4 m, and in the eastern English


Channel the value is 0.9 m.
Studies have shown that the mean winter significant wave height has been increasing in the
northeast Atlantic by 2% per year since the
early 1950s (Neu 1984; Bacon & Carter 1991).
Thus in the past 40 years, winter wave heights in
this region have increased by some 80%. It
seems likely that the increase in wave heights is
related to the increased storminess, perhaps
with locally created wind-sea effects supplementing an increased swell component, propagating from the west (Cotton et al. 1996).
The 50 year storm is an event for which wind
speeds and resulting wave heights have been
calculated (Draper 1972; Standing 1996). For the
WSS the most probable value of the height of
the highest wave likely to occur in the 50 year
storm is 33 m (Draper 1972). The maximum
energy of severe oceanic storm waves occurs at
about a 16 s period, corresponding to a wavelength of about 400 m. Linear (Airy) wave
theory (Leeder 1982) predicts that such a wave
would affect the sediments on the sea bed down
to a depth of 200 m. Wave-induced, oscillatory,
near-bed current velocities during storm conditions can exceed 50 cm/s at shelf-edge depths,
of say 160-200 m, for a large part of the continental shelf around the British Isles, on a significant number of days in the year (Hadley 1964;
Draper 1967).
The mean tidal range in the area is 2 m above
chart datum. Near-surface tidal current velocities range from <50 cm/s at the shelf edge and
mid to outer shelf to 100-150 crn/s on the inner
shelf, and >150 cm/s south of Shetland to the
north of the Fair Isle Channel (Belderson et al.
1971). Total surface current, which has several
components of which wind-induced current and
tidal stream are considered most important,
reaches extreme values of 200 cm/s on the WSS
(Noble D e n t o n 1985). Salinity levels are constant at 35-35.2%0. Mean sea surface temperatures in the area of study are 7~ in winter and
12.5~ in the summer (Hayward & Ryland
1990).
Nutrients a n d p r i m a r y p r o d u c t i o n
Study of p l a n k t o n abundance in the North
Atlantic Ocean has shown that despite the
absence of regions of upwelling and the lower
water temperatures, the continental shelf west of
the British Isles has a relatively high abundance
of plankton compared with other areas in the
North Atlantic Ocean. Samples from the upper
300 m of the water column gave values of 50-100
ml per 1000 m 3 displacement volume (B6 et al.

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82

J.M. LIGHT & J. B. WILSON

1971). The shelf edge west of Shetland has


maximum values for p l a n k t o n abundance
obtained in this study of >100 ml per 1000 m 3.
The values for the shelf edge region in the west
of Shetland match those obtained off West
Africa between 20~ and 5~ where vertical
mixing and nutrient enrichment of the epipelagic
waters contribute to a rich plankton biomass.

Sedimentary regime
The Holocene transgression resulted in water of
southerly origin that rapidly replaced polar
water on the coast of northwest Europe, and an
interstadial m a r i n e circulation with a weak
North Atlantic Drift was fully established off
both west Scotland and southern Scandinavia by
c. 12.8 ka Be (Peacock & Harkness 1990).
There is no significant input of fresh water nor
river-transported sediments onto the shelf from
the land in the area. The sediments accumulating on the continental shelf there today are
therefore predominantly biogenic carbonates,
although some mixing of older grains, stained
golden brown and grey and often heavily bored,
has been recorded (Wilson 1982a, 1988; Stride et
al. 1998). These post-glacial sediments range
from a few centimetres to 2 m in thickness but on
the inner shelf, bedforms (e.g. sand waves and
sand patches) of up to 20 m thickness occur, and
are formed in response to strong bottom currents (Stoker et al. 1993). The lithic component
of the sediments reflects the reworking of the
glacial sediments following onset of the postglacial transgression at c. 13 ka BP. These biogenic carbonates have been accumulating
throughout the H o l o c e n e epoch, and their
faunal composition reflects the variations in
post-glacial s e d i m e n t a r y environments. All
carbonate grains are skeletal and are derived
predominantly from molluscs, barnacles, sessile
serpulids and bryozoans. Beds of free-living calcareous algae or maerl deposits are recorded
from inshore waters to depths of <50 m around
Shetland (Howson 1988).

Ramp environments on the West Shetland


Shelf
The major environmental gradient on Shetland is
wave exposure. Waves tend to break close
inshore (Howson 1988). Kelp plants are present
down to at least 32 m, and encrusting coralline
algae dominate to >50 m depth. In the absence of
observational evidence and unequivocal theoretical criteria, a depth of 50 na is taken as fairweather wave-base. The WSS profile drops

steeply away from the shoreline and the inner


ramp is characterized by a 0.5-9.5 km wide strip
of sea bed above fair-weather wave-base (Fig. 3).
Rocky shores predominate and sandy beaches,
such as Quendale (Fig. 1), are uncommon on the
west coasts of Shetland. Generally, subaerial
dune zones are poorly developed and the steep
gradient of the coasts reflects their exposed
nature associated with an eroding coastal edge
(Mather & Smith 1974). The middle ramp
extends from fair-weather wave-base across the
platform to the shelf margin at 200 m water depth,
70 km northwest of the island of Foula, with an
overall slope angle of 0.06 ~. Water depths on the
middle ramp range from 50 m off Sumburgh
Head, dropping abruptly to 100 m, and remaining
more or less constant until the Foula Ridge,
which is marked by a shallowing to 50 m with a
subaerial expression of the ridge at the island of
Foula. Around Foula, water depths of 75 m are
reached within 0.5 km of the waterline. A shelf
mudline at 134 m (Fig. 3) marks a major gradient
change and the distal middle ramp is characterized by water depths of >130 m to 200 m at the
shelf edge. At this depth, severe wave activity can
cause disturbance to the sea bed, and this storm
wavebase therefore marks the middle-outer
ramp transition. The continental slope then falls
away more steeply (at an angle of 0.7 ~) with
depths of 500 m on the outer ramp being reached
within 15-20 km of the shelf margin.

Sedimentary facies
Introduction
Nine major facies have been recognized and
their textural and compositional characteristics
are summarized in Tables 1-3, (examples from
the middle and outer ramp are illustrated in Figs
4-6.) As the inner ramp zone is too narrow and
too close to the shore for safe ship handling, it
was not sampled. Proximal middle ramp
deposits are mainly palimpsest shell gravels and
coarse calcareous sands, with varying amounts
of non-calcareous grains (predominantly
quartz). Rounded, stained and unstained quartz
sand grains are present in all samples except
those from Station 138, southwest of Shetland.
These grains may be the result of either contemporaneous erosion of the underlying Old Red
Sandstone ( O R S ) or the reworking of preexisting sand excavated during the Holocene
transgression.
The Foula Ridge marks a major facies change
to a different suite of carbonate producers and
an increase in the quartz grain content. Below

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES

83

(a)

(a)

(b)

(b)

(c)

(c)

Fig. 4. Sediments of the West Shetland Shelf. Scale


bar represents 1 cm. (a) Bivalve-serpulid-barnacle
gravel (Facies 2), Station 139, water depth 109 m.
(b) Serpulid-barnacle-bivalve gravel (Facies 2),
Station 147, water depth 85 m. (c) Bivalve-bryozoanechinoderm sand (Facies 3), Station 140, water depth
104 m.

Fig. 5. Sediments of the West Shetland Shelf. Scale


bar represents (a) Bivalve-rich sand (Facies 3),
Station 141, water depth 92 m. (b) Quartzose
serpulid-rich gravel (Facies 4), Station 142, water
depth 92 m. (c) Pebbly barnacle-bivalve-serpulid
sand (Facies 5), Station M65, water depth 85 m.

134 m (shelf mudline, Fig. 3) sediments contain


>10% mud (partially carbonate), with a coarsening of textures towards the shelf edge. Here
and onto the upper slope (outer ramp), cobbles
and large pebbles become more frequent and
bottom sampling is difficult.

Irregular topography of up to 20 m relief was


recorded on echo-sounder profiles on the middle
shelf at Station 146, where a large heavily
encrusted sandstone slab was collected from the
boulder field which surrounds the Foula Ridge
(Fig. 7).

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84

J.M. LIGHT & J. B. WILSON

(a)

Fig. 7. Slab from sublittoral boulder field around


Foula Ridge with encrustation of serpulids
(dominantly Pomatoceras sp.) and barnacles
(Balanus spp.), facies 1. Scale bar represents 2 cm.
Facies 2: shell gravel (Stations 138, 139 and
147)

(b)

(c)
Fig. 6. Sediments of the West Shetland Shelf. Scale
bars in (a) and (b) represent 1 cm; in (c), 2 cm. (a)
Coarse Ditrupa-bryozoan sand (Facies 6), Station
160, water depth 134 m. (b) Ditrupa-rich quartz sand
(Facies 8), Station 158, water depth 162 m. (c) Cobbly
calcareous muddy gravel (fraction >1040 txm),
Station 155, water depth 230 m

Facies 1: conglomerate (inner ramp, Station


146)
This is a clast-dominated conglomerate with a
shell gravel matrix derived from the nearshore
field of boulders, which are principally encrusted
with barnacles, serpulids and coralline algae
(Fig. 7).

This consists of coarse bioclastic shell gravels


(Table 3), dominated (77-91%) by bivalve,
attached serpulid (almost entirely Pomatoceras
spp.) and barnacle fragments, which occur
seaward of local rocky shorelines at depths of
60-110 m (Table 2). Sediments are generally
well-sorted gravels (Fig. 4a and b), with the
largest shell fragments forming a lag deposit
(Fig. 8), where the echo-sounder record shows
the bottom to be irregular and acoustically hard.
In the region of Foula (Station 147) the sonographs show an irregular topography with possible infilling of sediment between topographic
highs. In sediments off Shetland, valves and
large fragments of the large bivalve Modiolus
modiolus (up to 150 mm in length) are major
contributors. Fragments of large gastropods
such as Buccinum undatum and Colus gracilis
are also conspicuous elements of the shell lags.
A range of small gastropod species have round
boreholes, interpreted as evidence of Polinices
montagui and Boreotrophon truncatus predation. D e a d and live-collected shells of these
species are present, as are coralla of the solitary
coral Caryophyllia smithii. There is extensive
microboring by sponges such as Cliona spp. and
by fungi. Many of the larger skeletal fragments
show superimposed encrustations, especially by
serpulids and bryozoans. Less than 5% of the
grains are stained brown and most are rounded
and abraded. Very few grains show fresh fracture edges. The live benthos is dominated by
bivalves and consists of Modiolus modiolus
together with Clausinella fasciata, Arcopagia

crassa, Glycymeris glycymeris, Gari tellinella,


Circomphalus casina, Spisula elliptica, Tapes
rhomboides, Timoclea ovata and Gouldia

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES

minima. This suite of bivalves, which forms a


recurring assemblage in the area, is here termed
the Shell Gravel Bivalve Association (SGBA).
The scavenging gastropod Hinia incrassata, and
the echinoderms Asterias rubens and Echinus
esculentus are also present. Off Foula the SGBA
is present with the addition of several nestling
and boring bivalve taxa such as Kellia suborbicularis, Hiatella arctica, Arca tetragona and
epilithic grazers such as Emarginula fissura and
Leptochiton asellus.

Facies 3: bioclastic quartz sand (Stations


140 and 141)
Sediments of Facies 3 (middle ramp, depth range
92-104 m) are coarse to medium grained and
contain between 28 and 40% carbonate (Figs 4c
and 5a). The non-calcareous grains consist of
stained, rounded to subangular quartz sand
(<375 Ixm) and occasional polymict lithic fragments. Echo-sounder records again show an
acoustically hard bottom. At Station 140 the
surface is mantled with valves and fragments of
Modiolus and Arctica islandica in the concavedown orientation. Grains are often encrusted
and have evidence of Cliona and fungal infestations. Bivalves are the most important skeletal
component, with echinoderms and bryozoans of
secondary importance. The echinoderm component consists mainly of ophiuroid ossicles,
tests of the irregular echinoid Echinocyamus
pusillus, and other irregular echinoid test and

85

spine debris. The bryozoan fragments consist


mainly of encrusting multilaminar taxa with
some stick-like fragments of erect rigid taxa, e.g.
Buskea dichotoma. The benthic fauna is sparse,
consisting of smaller bivalve taxa such as Timoclea ovata, Moerella donacina, M. pygmaea and
Spisula elliptica. Figure 9 shows a valve of the last
species supporting a live solitary coral,
Caryophyllia smithii. Live scaphopods (Antalis
entalis) are present, together with portions of
polychaete tubes composed of agglutinated sand
and shell grains. This less diverse fauna bears
many hallmarks of the Soft Substrate Association (Wilson 1988) and is characteristic of areas
of mobile sediments, such as tidally induced sand
waves, in the area (Kenyon & Stride 1970;
Wilson 1986). At Station 141 (bivalve-rich sand),
bivalves constitute 75% by weight of the sediment. Most of the barnacle and serpulid grains
are stained orange and brown, whereas many of
the bivalve valves and grains are fresh, retain
their natural colour and are readily identifiable
to species. Grains are not encrusted but microboring and gastropod drill-holes are present on
some of the bivalve fragments and small valves
(Fig. 10), and there are complete shells of Polinices. The benthos is impoverished, with two
bivalve taxa ( Gari tellinella, Spisula elliptica) and
Echinocyamus pusillus being the most common
taxa. The reduction in diversity and abundance
of specimens at Station 141 suggests an environment of greater sea-bed mobility with large sand
waves present (Wilson 1982a), although it still
resembles the Soft Substrate Association.

Fig. 8. Sediment in grab from Station 138 (Facies 2) showing undisturbed shell lag of predominantly Modiolus

modiolus with Glycymeris glycymeris in life position.

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86

J.M. LIGHT & J. B. WILSON

Fig. 9. Valve of Spisula elliptica, encrusted with


bryozoans and serpulids, showing attached juvenile
of Caryophyllia smithii. Scale bar represents 1 cm.

indicate an area of sand waves on a coarser sea


bed. Grains are encrusted, micro- and gastropod-bored, and are highly polished. The biogenic component of the sediment is dominated
by attached serpulids (44%), but barnacles and
bivalves contribute a further 37%. The largest
fragments are Modiolus modiolus, Glycyrneris
glycymeris and bryozoan nodules. There is slight
staining to perhaps 50% of the fragments,
especially on the barnacles and serpulids, suggesting that they may be relict grains. Many of
the grains show superimposed encrustations by
bryozoans (most recent phase) and serpulids
(earlier phase). There is a concentration of
ubiquitous quartz grains, similar to those seen in
other sediments in the area, and believed to be
derived from the extensive sea-floor ORS outcrops in the region. The benthic fauna includes
some agglutinated sand grain polychaete tubes,
the small irregular echinoid Echinocyamus
pusillus and bivalves of the SGBA.

Facies 5: bioclastic pebbly sand (Station 65)

Fig. 10. Valve of Dosinia lupinus showing unusual


occurrence of two successful gastropod boreholes and
the scar (above right-hand hole) of an unsuccessful
drilling attempt. Scale bar represents 1 cm.

Facies 4: bioclastic gravel and quartz sand


(Station 142)
Facies 4 occurs on the middle ramp at a depth of
92 m (Fig. 5b). The echo-sounder profile is
somewhat serrated in appearance with a regular
variation in acoustic penetration, which might

This sediment occurs on the middle ramp (depth


85 m) and is a pebbly barnacle-bivalve-serpulid
sand. It is texturally bimodal and contains a high
proportion of grains >2 mm composed of
abraded, grey shell fragments of predominantly
bivalve taxa, and rounded, polymict pebbles,
which are locally serpulid and bryozoan
encrusted (Fig. 5c). ORS-derived quartz grains
(375-125 ixm) mixed with skeletal elements of
ophiuroids, irregular echinoid spines and
foraminiferan tests are also present. Delicate,
pristine shells of the pelagic pteropod mollusc
Limacina retroversa, at various growth stages,
are a conspicuous feature of the sediment. Barnacles are dominant (38%), a reflection of the
relative proximity of Foula, with attached serpulids and bivalves contributing a further 28%.
Smaller barnacle plates are a mixture of Balanus
sp., Semibalanus balanoides and Verruca
stroemia. Some of the larger plates that are
highly abraded and encrusted by serpulids
(Pomatoceras spp.) are from older Balanus.
Micro- and gastropod-boring is present on many
of the shells and fragments, especially molluscs.
Bivalves associated with hard substrates
( Hiatella arctica and Heteranomia squamula) are
also present, and juveniles of Modiolus modiolus are present. The sediment has a number of
features characteristic of the Hard Substrate
Association (Wilson 1988). The benthos contains most SGBA taxa, the chiton Leptochiton
asellus, Echinocyamus pusillus and some agglutinated sand polychaete tubes.

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES

Facies 6: Ditrupa-bryozoan sand (Station


160)
Facies 6 (middle-outer ramp transition, 134 m)
marks a major biotic change in the sediments
and associated fauna, with a steep decline in
importance of barnacles and serpulids, and a
reduction in the contribution of bivalves to the
sediments (Fig. 6a). The sonograph and echosounder evidence suggests an extensive sand
patch with minimal relief. Gravel size grains
comprise the free-living serpulid Ditrupa arietina (38%) and bryozoans (30%). Many of the
fragments of Ditrupa are stained yellow-brown
and very few appear to be fresh. The bryozoan
component consists almost entirely of fragments
of two erect taxa; the rigid taxon Buskea
dichotoma and the flexible species Cellaria fistulosa. This dominance of the skeletal part of the
sediment is clearly demonstrated in Table 2.
Figure 11 shows the sediment with an undisturbed surface fauna of Ditrupa arietina and an
in situ colony of Buskea, with evidence of
serpulid encrustation and superficial young
growth of the cyclostomate bryozoan Coronoporata truncata. Large numbers (up to 1500/
m 2) of adult and juvenile Ditrupa arietina are
present and have been documented by Wilson
(1988). Additional fauna includes Antalis entalis
and Timoclea ovata. Pebbles with Buskea
dichotorna attached are also colonized by the

87

epilithic, inarticulate brachiopod Crania


anomala, and several fragments and dead juvenile coralla of Caryophyllia smithii are present.
Polinices montagui occurs as shells in the sediments and as drill-holes in bivalves and Ditrupa
arietina tubes (Fig. 12). ORS-derived quartz
grains are important in fractions finer than
250 p~m.

Facies 7: foraminiferan-Ditrupa m u d
(Stations 49 and 159)
Facies 7 occurs on the outer ramp at 170 m depth
and side-scan sonar data suggest a muddy, flat
sea floor. The calcium carbonate component of
Facies 7 is dominated by planktonic foraminiferans (globigerinaceans) and echinoderm debris in
the fine sands and muds, and Ditrupa (with
bivalve and gastropod grains of secondary
importance) in the coarser fractions. Limacina
shells are also conspicuous. Ditrupa fragments
tend to be stained and the surface of echinoderm
debris is abraded. There is no evidence of microor gastropod boring, nor of encrusted fragments,
but some Ditrupa tubes and fragments have gastropod boreholes. Eleven per cent of grains
<62 ~m are composed of calcium carbonate.
These are either biomacerated skeletal grains or
the accumulated pelagic foraminiferan-ooze and
are mixed with quartz and clay minerals.

Fig. 11. Sediment in grab from Station 160 (Facies 6) showing undisturbed surface fauna of Ditrupa arietina
and an in situ colony of the ramose bryozoan Buskea dichotoma, in left foreground, with evidence of serpulid
encrustation.

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88

J.M. LIGHT & J. B. WILSON

Fig. 12. Drilled partial and complete juvenile and adult tubes of Ditrupa arietinashowing evidence of
gastropod predation. Scale bar represents 1 cm.
Occasional Antalis shells are inhabited by the
sipunculan Phascolion strombi, and may support
a Caryophyllia. Additional components include
the two sea-pen species Pennatula phosphorea
and Virgularia mirabilis.

Facies 8: Ditrupa-quartz sand (Stations 157


and 158)
This facies occurs on the outer ramp at depths of
160-200 m and is marked by a larger number of
lithic fragments (metamorphic and igneous
sources) in addition to the ORS-derived sands
(Fig. 6b), and the sea floor is characterized by
small-scale, irregular topography. Analyses of
the sediments from the two stations 11 km apart
show them to be very similar in respect of
texture and faunal composition (Tables 2 and 3),
and the facies is interpreted as being laterally
extensive. Calcium carbonate content is relatively low (25%) and is contributed by Ditrupa
fragments and planktonic foraminiferans. There
is occasional encrustation and boring of the
grains. The live benthos is extremely sparse both
numerically and faunistically, with low numbers
of shells of Ditrupa, Antalis and occasional individuals of the epilithic limpet Iothia fulva.

Facies 9: conglomeratic bioclastic muddy


gravel (Stations 154-156)
The texture of the sea bed at the shelf edge on
the outer ramp (depth 200-260 m) is generally a
coarse gravel, in places covered in a thin veneer

of sand and mud with scattered cobbles and


rocks as seen on images from towed television
camera and from rock dredge samples. The
surface appears largely undisturbed, with larger
pebbles and small cobbles either scattered on
the surface or partially embedded. The
occasional larger rocks have rounded surfaces,
are colonized by epifauna, especially serpulids,
and are encircled by scour moats on their downcurrent side (Fig. 13a). Underwater TV evidence
demonstrates significant north-flowing current
transport of suspended material. Northwardmigrating asymmetric current-generated ripples
are also present (Fig. 13b). The orientation of
the scour moats together with the ripples provides further evidence of the importance of the
U S C N E at this depth.
Many of the boulders and cobbles of Facies 9
(Fig. 6c) support an epifauna, mostly of serpulids (Placostegus tridentatus and Serpula
vermicularis) and inarticulate brachiopods
(Crania anomala), with numerous scars of
former calcareous epifaunal colonization,
including the attached valves of Crania. Bryozoans are also important epifaunal colonizers.
Of the bioclastic component, molluscs are
diverse and dominant, and include whole and
broken valves of Chlamys islandica (Fig. 13c).
This colourful species is currently living in the
waters around Iceland (2-300 m depth) and has
not been recorded living today in Scottish
waters. The fragments and valves, which retain
their strong radial sculpture and often their
colour, are likely to date from the last glacial

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES


interval when, at the glacial maximum in Late
Devensian time, the palaeo-shoreline is inferred
to have been in the region of the present-day
shelf edge (Jardine 1982; Peacock & Harkness

(a)

89

1990). Articulate brachiopods (Terebratulina


retusa and Macandrevia cranium) (Fig. 14) are
present in greater abundance at these depths.
A m o n g the associated live benthos are regular
echinoids, Cidaris cidaris (Fig. 13a) and the crustacean Munida rugosa. The molluscan element
of the fauna is dominated by gastropods, with a
wide range of distinctive species associated with
the upper slope. These consist of epilithic
archaeogastropod (primitive) taxa (Propilidium
ancyloide, Puncturella noachina and Solariella
amabilis), predatory neogastropods, including
large taxa (Colus jeffreysianus and Troschelia
berniciensis), and several highly specialized
turrid species. Similarly, the bivalves are composed of distinctive species (Bathyarca phillipiana, Bentharca nodulosa, Limopsis aurita) and
are diagnostic of shelf edge and slope environments (Wilson 1982a). Large asteroids and
holothurians and the robust sea anemone Actinauge richardi are conspicuous components of the
fauna.

Role of organisms in sediment production


and breakdown
The composition of the biogenic sediments
accumulating on the West Shetland Shelf results
from a combination of the varying production
rates and abundances of the faunal groups

(b)

(~)
Fig. 13. Sea-bed photographs taken with the Mark
III Camera sledge. Midground field of view is
approximately 55 cm width. (a) Sea bed on the upper
continental slope showing large boulder at left with
scour moat (partly in shadow) and the regular
echinoid, Cidaris cidaris. (b) Asymmetric ripples on
the sea bed of the shelf edge-upper slope and
showing the sea anemone Actinauge richardi oriented
with the current. (e) Valves of Modiolus modiolus
and Chlamys islandica in convex-up position at the
shelf edge-upper slope.

Fig. 14. The articulate brachiopods Macandrevia


cranium (larger) and Terebratulina retusa attached to
a small bryozoan-encrusted pebble. Scale bar
represents i cm.

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90

J.M. LIGHT & J. B. WILSON

present, and the subsequent constructional and


destructional processes operating within the
system.
A total of 171 preservable taxa have been
recognized in the benthos. In addition to organisms picked out of benthos samples, unretrieved
smaller organisms (principally microscopic molluscs and foraminiferans) have been recognized
during sediment analysis but are not included in
the benthos lists. The total of 171 recognized
taxa is therefore a conservative one and, of
these, 92 were collected alive. A further 27 are
present as recently predated, bored bivalves or
as very fresh shells in sufficient quantity to indicate that they are currently living in the environment. Of the 171 taxa, 99 are molluscs, which
are the most important carbonate-producing
group on the WSS. Bivalves (63 species) are by
far the most conspicuous element of the macrofauna, and the most persistent suite of species is
the SGBA (Table 4). All distal middle ramp
stations yielded very little living benthos and
few organisms were retrieved from Facies 7.
Facies 6 benthos has abundant Ditrupa arietina
and erect branching bryozoans, and is a zone of
greater calcium carbonate production when
compared with the outer ramp. The narrow
region that represents the inner ramp on the
WSS might suggest a lower rate of biological
carbonate productivity and resultant sediment
production. However, the location of sites of
major living zones for serpulids and barnacles,
and, to a lesser extent, bryozoans, is favoured by
areas of irregular topography with bedrock,
boulder fields or rougher mixed substrate
characteristics (Howson 1988; Nelson et al.
1988b) and their widespread occurrence in this
habitat on the WSS reflected by the sediment
types suggests a high production rate per unit
area.
Bulk analyses of the sediments show that
calcium carbonate secreting organisms fall into
three classes of abundance in terms of their relative contribution to the sediment composition:
(1) bivalve molluscs, barnacles and attached serpulids are the major components in most
samples, especially those from the inner and
middle shelf; (2) bryozoans, gastropods and
echinoderms contribute considerably smaller
numbers of grains to the sediments, but are consistent and important components; (3) brachiopods, corals, chiton plates and carapace
fragments from decapod crustaceans are present
throughout but total numbers of grains remain
low (usually <10 and never >20 per sub-sample).
The free-living serpulid Ditrupa arietina is an
important sediment contributor on the outer
shelf, where it dominates the >1 mm fraction.

Foraminifera are also important in the outer


shelf environment, where pelagic species may
dominate the fine sand and mud sediments. The
areas of maximum concentration of the important faunal components in the sediments do
show a correspondence to their known preferred
environmental habitat (Carthew & Bosence
1986; Kidwell & Bosence 1991). The faunal composition of the living benthos, although varying
in the taxonomic diversity and abundance of
individuals, is broadly reflected in the relative
proportions of the differing faunal skeletal
occurrences in the sediments (Wilson 1979a,
1982a).
Important constructional agents may act
either as sediment bafflers, such as bryozoans
and Modiolus beds, or as encrusters, notably
bryozoans, serpulids and barnacles. Destructional processes may be initiated by organisms
that bore into the accumulating carbonate
(fungi, sponges and molluscs: Polinices spp. and
Boreotrophon truncatus), and by biomacerating
predators such as decapod crustaceans and fish.
No observations have been made to indicate
that sea-floor dissolution is taking place on the
WSS.
Substrate availability is an important control
for the encrusting and sessile fauna. In addition
to their widespread occurrence on inner shelf
bedrock, boulder fields and much surface area of
kelp plants, small shells, shell fragments and
pebbles (-1 cm) are also commonly colonized by
encrusting organisms (Fig. 15). Glycymeris,
Modiolus and other large bivalves and certain
large neogastropod species (Buccinum, Colus,
Neptunea) are often present in a degraded state.
The size and robustness of these shells offers a
viable substrate for exploitation by various
destructive agents (sponge and fungal boring) or
constructive fauna (encrustation by serpulids,
membraniporiform bryozoans, barnacles). The
destructive processes ultimately contribute to
the disintegration of the shells.
Some taxa are distributed sporadically across
the shelf and onto the slope (e.g. Polinices montagui (Gastropoda)), others are continuous in
one environment (e.g. Gari tellinella (Bivalvia)
on the middle shelf) and some species are
restricted to greater depths at the shelf edge and
upper slope (e.g. Arcopella balaustina
(Bivalvia)) (Table 4).

Non-tropical carbonates; n e w
classifications
In view of the greatly increased number of
studies of non-tropical carbonates within the last

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES

91

..=
3
r~

r.~

r.~

"-6

~,,,,,~

,<

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92

J.M. LIGHT & J. B. WILSON


et al. 1988b); molechfor of Carannante et al.

Fig. 15. Partial abraded valve of Arcopagia crassa


with attached inarticulate brachiopod Crania
anomala, bryozoan encrustation and the attached
serpulid Pomatoceras sp. Scale bar represents 1 cm.
decade or so, and the use of a number of terms to
distinguish these from their tropical counterparts
(extra-tropical, temperate, cool-water, coldwater, cryocarbonate), it has been necessary to
erect new definitions to reflect these differences
and to aid our understanding and interpretation.
The control that water temperature exerts on
carbonate grain associations (Lees & Buller
1972) offers a useful tool for refining our descriptive terminology and accords a crisper definition
of the physical nature of the carbonate sediments
that accumulate outside the tropics. Non-tropical
carbonates can be usefully grouped into five
provinces using temperature parameters (James
1997, fig. 4). The West Shetland deposystem and
all analogous settings in Table 5 generate coolwater carbonates and fall predominantly into the
temperate province, with some marginal settings
close to 30~ and 60~ indicating by their water
temperature ranges as well as their latitudes that
they are correctly placed at the sub-tropical-temperate and t e m p e r a t e - s u b - p o l a r boundaries,
respectively (Fig. 16).
The terms Photozoan Association and Heterozoan Association have been proposed (James
1997) to replace the Chlorozoan and Foramol
assemblages of Lees & Buller (1972), which have
hitherto been widely used to distinguish between
the carbonates deposited in the tropical and nontropical realms, respectively. The latter terminology was founded on the biological components of
the sediments but has been limited by the taxonomic emphasis in the names. This resulted in
subsequent modifications to these terms to take
account of local variations in the dominance of
certain phyla over others (e.g. bryomol of Nelson

(1988)). The new term Heterozoan is defined as


an association of benthic carbonate particles produced by organisms that are light-independent
with or without calcareous red algae. The Photozoan Association is an association of benthic
carbonate particles, including skeletons of lightdependent organisms and non-skeletal particles,
with or without skeletons from the Heterozoan
Association. This definition allows for the fact
that even at low latitudes, the H e t e r o z o a n
Association may occur in deep water below the
photic zone, or in shallower water where nutrient
supplies promote dense plankton, which masks
light penetration and suppresses invertebrates,
such as hermatypic corals, that contain photosymbionts.

Comparison between the West Shetland


Shelf and analogous non-tropical
carbonate factories in the northern and
southern hemispheres
In refining our understanding of carbonate
ramps as depositional systems the similarities
between them may be 'convenient but it is the
differences which are instructive' (Wright 1994).
Table 5 summarizes information on some of
the principal characteristics of the WSS ramp
and compares these with other modern nontropical carbonate provinces, all with deposits of
the Heterozoan Association (Fig. 16). Some
studies in open shelf settings in the northeast
Atlantic have provided information on their
associated sediment compositions and depositional environments (Hoskin & Nelson 1969;
Siesser 1972; Gunatilaka 1977; Bosence 1980).
Few carbonate depositional systems from the
n o r t h e r n hemisphere have been reported as
shore to continental slope syntheses, the
majority of the documented examples being
sited along the continental margin of south Australia and around New Zealand.
Non-tropical carbonate factories based on a
similar carbonate-producing fauna (the Heterozoan Association), but which differ in shelf
profile and depositional style from the WSS,
such as carbonates on isolated banks and platforms or in low-energy, enclosed marine
environments (Milliman et al. 1972; Scoffin et al.
1980; Scoffin & Bowes 1988; Freiwald et al. 1991;
Henrich et al. 1992; Fornos & A h r 1997; Henrich
et al. 1997), have not been included in Table 5.
The province flanking the western seaboard of
the British Isles from northwest Shetland to the
Isles of Scilly is 1680 km long and ranges through
11~ of latitude and 11~ of longitude, whereas the

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES

2 22 ~
-oo...

93

, ( "%

i(.

/.

,.,.-

..

,o

-60 ~ S

Bottom
water

Sediment
provinces

ATTRIBUTES

warm

tropical

- 18-

22~

sublropical

cool - 1 0

temperate

HETEROZOAN: open shelves and ramps, minor carbonate mud, ?minor cementation,
no shallow water reefs, slope mounds, extensive bioerosion & maceration, calcite
minerals dominant

~510~

subpolar

HETEROZOAN: abundant barnacles and/or molluscs, brachiopods, open shelves mad


ramps, extensive maceration and boring, no cementation, calcite mineralogies

cold
<5oc

polar

HETEROZOAN: gigantism, biogenic siliceous facies, open shelves and ramps,


barnacles common, no cementation, calcite mineralogies

>22oC

-18~

PHOTOZOAN: shallow rimmed shelves, ramps, reefs, abundant carbonate mud,


marine cementation, micritization, bioerosion, aragonite+Mg-calcite mineralogies
HETEROZOAN + minor Photozoan elements: abundant coralline algae, open shelves
and ramps, few reefs, minor carbonate mud, ?minor marine cementation, bioerosion,
aragonite+calcite mineralogies

Fig. 16. Locations of present-day non-tropical carbonate settings described in Table 5, with classification (after
James 1997) to show relationship between major sediment province, bottom water temperature, and the
attributes of the carbonates produced, in each setting.
province along the south Australian margin is
4000 km long and ranges through 8~ of latitude
and 38 ~ of longitude. Carbonates have now been
studied along the longitudinal extent of the south
Australian province and the extensive shallowmarine platforms of northern and southern New
Zealand, together with the more local areas of
shelf between them. Studies of the British
province are rather more disjunct, as a result of
both genuine absences of data from some areas
and the apparently discontinuous distribution of
carbonate sediments. D o c u m e n t e d examples

range from the Portuguese Atlantic coast


(Boillot 1965; Larsonneur et al. 1982; Dias & Nittrouer 1984; Henrich et al. 1995) to the western
seaboard of Norway (Freiwald et al. 1991) and
north to Svalbard, but more detailed work is
required to confirm the true extent and style of
the European province.
P h y s i c a l attributes

The continental margin of southern Australia is


the largest continuous area of active cool-water

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94

J.M. LIGHT & J. B. WILSON

Table 5. Summarized characteristics of the WSS and analogous non-tropical carbonate deposystems in northern
and southern hemispheres
Location,
Fig. 16 no.

Annual
surface
temp. (~

Shelf
edge
depth (m)

Max. wave
disturbance
depth (m)
Extent

Upper Slope Current of


N Europe (USCNE)
flows poleward along
shelf edge-upper slope
Fair Isle Channel
current flows W-E
Some component of
USCNE flows into
North Sea
USCNE on shelf
edge-upper slope

7-12.5

120--250

200

46 500
km2

7-12.5

not
applic.

no data

8-14

200

(wave ht
30 m/15.5
period
50-year
storm)
no data

N-NWAleutian Current
(autumn
& winter) S Calif.
Current (summer)
no major currents

5.5-10
(bottom
water)

225

no data

1000
km
long

no data

160

(wave
periods of
18 s)

no data

16-20

163-175

>200

4000
km 2

no data

200

Tectonic
setting

Hydrographic
regime

Ocean current
influence

60~

passive
cont.
margin

Farrow et al.
1984

59~

W. margin
of
intra-cont,
basin

open, stormdora. +tidal;


no
upwelling
tide-dom. +
storm
disturbance, no
upwelling

West
Scottish
Cont. Shelf,
3
Scott Shelf
Vancouver,
4

Scoffin 1988;
Farrow et al.
1984

55-58~

passive
margin

Nelson &
Bornhold
1983

51~

converg,
boundary

North
Portugal
Cont. Shelf,
5
Rottnest
Shelf,
6

Dias &
Nittrouer
1984

39~2~

passive
cont.
margin

open, tidal +
storm
influence on
outer shelf
wind-wave
currents,
strong tidal
flows
open, swells
frequent;
upwelling

Collins 1988

32-34~

passive
cont.
margin

open, swell
wave-dom., no
upwelling

Eucla
Platform,
7
Lincoln
Shelf,
8

James & von


der Borch
1991
James et al.
1997

33-34~

passive
cont.
margin
passive
cont.
margin

Lacepede
(L) &
Bonney (B)
Shelves,
9
Otway
Shelf,
10

James et al.
1992

37-39~

Boreen et al.
1993

New South
Wales Cont.
Shelf,
11
Snares
Platform,
12

Reference

Latitude

West
Shetland
Shelf,
1
Northeast
Orkney
Shelf,
2

This paper

34-36~

Leeuwin Current (but


does not generate outer
shelf-upper slope
currents)
open, storm-dom. Leeuwin Current

no data

'at least

15 000

80'

kin2

open, storm-dom.
upwelling

Leeuwin Current, Gt.


Australian Bight
Current, Flinders
Current

16-17
(JuneJuly)

150-220

at least
125 m

60000
km2

passive
cont.
margin

open to
oceanic
swells;
upwelling

Leeuwin Current

14-18

140-250

140 'swell
wavebase'

25 000
km2

37-40~

passive
cont.
margin

open, swell
dominated;
upwelling

Great Australian Bight


Current + Flinders
Current

18

180

<250

Ferland &
Roy 1997

32-35~

converg.
boundary

open, storm-dom.

S.-flowing East Australian no data


Current

145-170

no data

400 km
long
30-80
km
30 km
mean
width

Nelson et al.
1988a

47-49~

converg,
boundary

13-19

130-200

130

40 000
km 2

Three Kings
Plateau,
13

Nelson e t a l .
1982,1988

34~

converg,
boundary

open, storm
Southland Current
dora. + tidal
currents;
upwelling
open, storm-dom. East & West Auckland
upwelling
Currents

15-22

100-212

130

10000
km2

Wanganui
Shelf,
14

Gillespie &
Nelson 1997

40~

converg,
boundarybackarc
basin

open shelf
storm + tidal
currents:
upwelling

13.5-17

250

130

no data

Westland & D'Urville


Currents

Locations of numbered deposystems are shown in Fig. 16. mwd, mean water depth. Faunal abbreviations: B. For, benthic foraminiferans; Barn, barnacles; Biv,
bivalves; Brac, brachiopods; Bry, bryozoans; C. Alg, coralline algae; Ech, echinoderms; For, foraminiferans: Gast, gastropods; Moll, molluscs; Ostr,
ostracods; Pter, pteropods; Serp, serpulids.

carbonate deposition on Earth, and is a region of


complex oceanic interactions (Collins 1988;
James et al. 1992, 1994, 1997; Boreen & James
1993; Boreen et al. 1993). The region shares a
number of major physical characteristics with
the continental margin of northwest Europe. It
is situated along a passive margin with a similar
post-glacial history of transgression. Both
margins face an open ocean, which results in a

high-energy environment. Although tidal currents play a part in the style of deposition, it is
the battering that both these systems receive
from frequent and severe storms that largely
controls the nature of the preservable deposits.
Variable rates of carbonate productivity by
infaunal and motile invertebrates, augmented
by a widespread encrusting benthos, and the
reworking of accumulating sediments on both

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES

95

Dominant
skeletons

Major
skeletons

Minor
skeletons

Terrigenous
influx

Bioclastic sands and gravels with increasing


quartz and polymict lithic fragments on
outer shelf; muddy sediments in low-energy
pockets on shelf
Bioclastic sands and gravels, average 2-5 m
thick; finer sands deposited on deeper shelf;
muddy sands up to 10 m thick occur inshore
in sheltered environments

Biv

Barn
Serp
Bry

Ech
Gast
Brac

Neglig

Biv

Barn
Bry
Serp

C. Alg
Gast
Ech

Neglig

Numerous islands with sheltered E coasts


& sounds <50 mwd; exposed shelf 50-200 mwd

Shallow-water palimpsest shell gravels + wellsorted sands with muddier sediments in


deeper water

Moll

Barn
Serp
Bry

Ech
C, Alg
B, For

Low

Shelf is <100 mwd, distally steepened;


sea bed is topographically irregular with
swells, depressions and bedrock outcrops

Thin, discontinuous blanket of clean skeletal


carbonate sands and gravels

Biv

Barn
Bry

Neglig

Shelf 45 km wide, gentle gradient with


tectonically induced irregularities

Quartz sand <80 mwd, biogenic carbonate


>80 mwd; nearshore deposit of fluvially
transported fine sand with high mica content

Moll

For

Gast
Ech
Serp
Brac
no data

Inner shelf 0-60 mwd; outer shelf


100-t70 mwd; shelf-gradient 0.I-0.2",
steepens distally

Thin (<1 m) blanket of carbonate and relict


skeletal sands with little terrigenous influx;
distal silt and clay

Bry
C. AIg

Moll
For
Ech

Pter
Ostr
Brac

Minor
input

Narrow inshore ramp to 40 mwd; wide flat


plain 40.100/120 mwd; outer shelf (100-200 mwd)
dips at <1~ steepens distally
Coast falls within few km to 50 m; inner shelf
50-95 mwd; middle shelf 95-120 mwd; outer
shelf 120-160 mwd; shelf topography
interrupted by series of terraces; steepens
distally
Steep shoreface; inner shelf 40-70 m; middle
shelf 70-140 m; L Shelf is wide, B is narrow;
steepens distally

Coarse-grained skeletal sediments with relict


particles throughout; bioclastic sand
alternating with muds at shelf-slope break
Palimpsest veneer (m-scale) of carbonate
deposits, grainy and rippled with little or no
mud

Bry

Moll
For

no data

Very
low

Bry
Biv

B. For
C. Alg

Ech
Serp
Brac
Gast

Minor
input

Palimpsest sediments of quartzose &


terrigenous clastic deposits & bryozoan
dominated carbonates; deposits are veneers

Bry
Moll

C. Alg
B. For

Serp
Eeh
Brac

Present
from
Murray
Delta

Steep shoreface; narrow sheff; mid-shelf


30-130 mwd; outer shelf 130-180 m;
steepens distally

Thin, quartz-rich palimpsest gravel veneer,


finer sands and muds in quieter environments

Bry

Moll
For

C. Alg
Ech
Serp

Neglig

Narrow shelf average gradient 0.3~ steep


inner shelf 0-60 mwd; mid-shelf
60-125 mwd; outer shelf >135-150 mwd

Quartzose sands (1-2 m thick) on inner shelf


with increasing carbonate with water depth, to
degraded biogenic sand and shell gravels on
outer shelf
Coarse-grained carbonate sediments at all
depths, carbonate muds are rare

Moll

C. Alg
Bry

Barn
Ech

Minor

Bry

Moll
For

Ech
Serp

Limited

Coarse carbonate (70->90%) sediments at all


water depths

Bry

Moll

Mixed siliciclastic-carbonate sediments on


shelf 2000 kma lobe of carbonates (>70%)
on inner-mid-shelf

Moll (Biv)

Bry
B. For

C. Alg
Limited
B. For, Serp
Barn
Ech
no data
Present
at all
shelf
depths

Shelf morphology

Sediments

Coast falls steeply to mid-shelf (gradient <1~)


70-100 mwd; outer shelf > 100 mwd; steepens
distally
Coast falls steeply to 70 km platform of
30-100 mwd on west margin of North Sea

Broad platform of max. 300 km width

Platform bordered by steep fault-controlled


slopes (6~ gradient to east and 0,5-1 ~ to
west); 25-100 mwd on inner and middle
shelves
Shelf <125 mwd; inner shelf <50 mwd;
gradient <1~

these low-gradient shelves, result in generally


thin (<1 m) blankets of palimpsest carbonate
sediments. In common with the European and
Australian carbonate factories, the carbonate
settings in New Zealand have an open-ocean
aspect, which results in high-energy swell-wave
conditions and frequent severe storms that cause
periodic sediment motion down to at least midshelf depths. For example, the Three Kings

Present
on inner
shelf

region has, on average, only seven calm days per


year but has 75 days with gale force winds, and
the Snares Platform experiences 70 gale force
days a year (Nelson e t al. 1988b). In New
Zealand the sediments form a blanket of skeletal carbonates, which are dispersed and mixed
mainly during infrequent movement of sand
ribbons, sand waves and sand sheets driven by
storm-assisted tidal flows.

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96

J.M. LIGHT & J. B. WILSON

All three shelves receive very little terrigenous influx. In Australia this lack of surface
drainage results from the arid hinterland of low
elevation and subdued relief. In northwest Scotland there are areas of high rainfall and an elevated hinterland of predominantly resistant
lithologies, but there are no major rivers draining into the Atlantic. Like the WSS, the inner
region of the south Australian continental
margin (comprising the Eucla Platform, Lincoln,
Lacepede, Bonney, Otway and New South
Wales Shelves; Table 5) is narrow, with a steep
shoreface, which, in the case of the Lincoln Shelf
(James et al. 1997), falls to depths of 50 m within
a few kilometres. Thus the inner ramp (defined
by FWWB) of these modern models is very
narrow and the middle ramp is correspondingly
wide. Both continental shelves have an abrupt
break in slope at their respective shelf edges
(120-250 m in northwest Europe and 140-250 m
in south Australia), which results in a distally
steepened ramp profile. The south Australian
carbonate region is thus very similar to the West
Shetland setting, and to the carbonate province
extending down the west coasts of Scotland and
Ireland. The New Zealand platforms exhibit
some important affinities with both.
B i o l o g i c a l attributes

Molluscs (principally bivalves) and bryozoans


are the most important components of the biogenic sediments of the northwest European,
southern Australian and New Zealand
provinces. The suites of ancillary invertebrate
groups (some of which make a very minor
contribution to the skeletal component of the
sediments) that are common to all provinces are
echinoderms, gastropods, scaphopods, brachiopods and solitary azooxanthellate corals. A
striking feature of the northern carbonate
province is the greater importance of barnacle
and serpulid grains in the sediments. Barnacles
are also significant grain producers in New
Zealand. Although some of the European
material is the product of low sea level and the
early transgressional regime (Stride et al. 1998),
much is contemporary, and results from the
extensive colonization of available substrates in
West Shetland and on the continental shelf north
and west of Scotland. On the New Zealand
shelves there is a diversity of hard substrates and
coarse particulates, for the encrusting epifauna
and the macrofauna contain very similar components to those of the Australian and European
provinces (table 2 and fig. 7 of Nelson et al.
1988b).
Comparison of the northern and southern

hemisphere faunas in detail shows that they


have a number of important genera in common.
For example, the bivalve Glycymeris is one of
the dominant bivalves in all three settings, and
although azooxanthellate corals are minor contributors to Australian and European carbonates, the solitary coral Caryophyllia is a feature
in both.
The major northern and southern hemisphere
provinces exhibit the potential for minor
carbonate build-ups with the presence of calcareous algae and bryozoans. In northwest
Europe, the deep-water coral Lophelia pertusa
is also a potential framebuilder, particularly
west of Norway (Mortensen et al. 1995; Wilson et
al. 1997) and some bryozoan mound formation
occurs on the upper slope in the south Australian
system. There are, however, no major build-ups
or mounds in either system.
Aspects of dissimilarity

Whereas the WSS and the southern Australian


shelves are sited on a passive margin, the New
Zealand tectonic setting differs in that it is a convergent plate boundary. As a result, many of the
modern sediments on the New Zealand continental terrace are dominantly terrigenous sands
and muds, some of locally volcanogenic origin
(Carter 1975). It is because the northernmost
and southernmost shelves are starved of terrigenous material that extensive areas of carbonates
have accumulated. On Three Kings Plateau in
the north the sediments accumulate on a plateau
that is bordered by narrow, steep (average 6~
fault-controlled slopes in the east and north, and
by a broad gently dipping (0.5-1 ~ depositional
slope and rise in the west (Nelson et al. 1982).
There are also several dissimilarities between
the European and southern hemisphere models.
In southern Australia, the shelf edge and upper
slope are subject to cold, upwelling currents
(Boreen et al. 1993), and active upwelling currents are a feature of several of the carbonate
shelf margins around New Zealand (Nelson et al.
1982). Both these provinces are bryozoan dominated. In Australia, bryozoan colonies make up
a large portion of the living fauna on the shelf. In
places, the bottom consists of a forest of bryozoan communities, which almost completely
cover the sea floor (Wass et al. 1970). More than
300 species have been reported from the Lacepede Shelf (Hageman et al. 1995), and their
skeletal remains are the dominant (20-50%)
constituent of the sands along the 4000 km long
margin, over an area of 384 000 km 2 (Conolly &
v o n d e r Borch 1967; Wass et al. 1970; Collins
1988; Boreen & James 1993; James et al. 1994).

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES


Bryozoan-dominated sediments are most abundant on the middle and outer shelf and upper
slope (Bone & James 1997), and are abundant at
depths of 110-220 m (Wass et al. 1970). The
nutrients required to support these extensive
areas of bryozoans are probably derived from
the colder, nutrient-rich, Intermediate Antarctic
Water as it upwells over the shelf-slope break.
Bryozoans are also the most abundant
carbonate components on cool-water shelves
around New Zealand (Nelson et al. 1988a). In
common with the Australian setting, active
topographically induced upwelling of offshore
waters has been reported from Three Kings
Plateau (Nelson et al. 1982), and more widely in
New Zealand (Nelson et al. 1988a; Gillespie &
Nelson 1997).
Areas experiencing upwelling are associated
with zones of increased biological productivity
in the water column (Bradford & Roberts
1978). Studies of the nutrient regime along the
Australian Otway shelf indicate that the highest
nutrient concentrations consistently occur in
the cold deep waters off the shelf break (Lewis
1981; Gibbs et al. 1986). Upwelling and high
nutrient levels have been invoked for the occurrence of bryozoan-rich mud mounds on
Carboniferous outer ramp zones (Wright 1994).
Along the present-day south Australian continental margin, the prominence of robust
bryozoan-coral mounds is also likely to be
linked to the local hydrodynamic conditions
(Boreen et al. 1993).
The dominance of bryozoans as sediment
components in south Australian and New
Zealand carbonates is a recurring feature
throughout Cenozoic time, especially in Oligocene-Miocene time (Nelson 1978). Bryozoans,
especially cheilostomes, are the most abundant
and diverse biogenic component of the OligoMiocene Abrakurrie Limestone (James & Bone
1994). A time-stability factor may be important
here: many bryozoan species living in the Great
Australian Bight have fossil records that range
back to Miocene time (P. J. Hayward, pers.

comm.).
It is tempting to speculate that the absence of
upwelling along the shelf edge of the WSS may
explain, at least in part, the lesser role of bryozoans in contributing to the carbonate sediments of the area. Other suspension feeders are,
however, successful at the shelf edge and upper
slope. Also, although upwelling is not reported
from the region, the presence of the USCNE, the
effects of the Gulf Stream and of water agitation
and replenishment by occasional slope water
incursions onto the shelf, lead to high plankton
production and nutrient concentrations in the

97

water column. Water motion, excluding destructive wave action, is generally desirable for bryozoans, which feed largely on phytoplankton
(Blake 1981). As production of large numbers of
larvae is dependent on an ample supply of food,
the mass production of larvae in these nutrientrich waters may represent an effective strategy for
the invasion of available substrates, and such
behaviour might be especially effective if synchronized with recruitment of other prolific but
competitively inferior species such as serpulids
and barnacles (Jackson 1981). Barnacles and serpulids are important contributors on the West
Shetland Shelf, whereas serpulids are less important in south Australia, and barnacles are not
reported in any of the major studies along that
continental margin. Barnacles are, however, local
contributors in deeper waters in areas of coarsergrained and local rocky substrates in New
Zealand. Nevertheless, in addition to the putative
link between upwelling and bryozoan abundance,
a competitive mechanism may also be in operation. There are numerous published demonstrations of organisms affecting each other's
distributions in a wide variety of ways, including
many studies on bryozoans (Jackson 1981).
If the WSS is a lower nutrient regime, overall,
than the southern hemisphere shelves, it begs the
question whether bivalves are competitively
superior in such a setting, in their ability to feed
on the particulates at the water-sediment interface, and thus their freedom from entire dependence on water-borne suspended material. This
mechanism could also apply to the filter-feeding
free-living serpulid Ditrupa arietina, which lives
on the sediment surface of the WSS and can
occur in large numbers in the distal middle ramp
environment (Facies 6, Fig. 3). Although it has
been reported in association with bryozoan
colonies from the Oligo-Miocene Abrakurrie
Limestone of the Eucla Platform and the Port
Campbell Limestone of the Otway Basin (James
& Bone 1994), Ditrupa is not reported from the
present-day south Australian continental
margin.
Another point of departure between the
south Australian and Shetland ramp models
concerns the shelf-edge environment. Whereas
the Australian margin, in common with most
regions, does not demonstrate an important
sedimentological break, but rather, a gradual
increase in muddiness of the sediments and
decrease in macrobiota (James 1997), sedimentary, benthic and underwater TV evidence
shows that the Shetland shelf edge is a zone of
increased coarseness of deposits (Facies 9). This
comprises a distinct and spatially continuous
macroinvertebrate assemblage. These abrupt

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98

J.M. LIGHT & J. B. WILSON

changes in sediment texture and faunal assemblage indicate that far from being an environment of low energy lacking idiosyncratic and
preservable characteristics, it is likely to form a
conspicuous sedimentological marker in an
ocean-facing carbonate ramp. In West Shetland,
the coarser elements of the shelf-edge conglomerate include polymict cobbles and boulders,
which are interpreted as glacially derived
deposits from the melting of the ice sheet. The
shells of shallower-water species (Modiolus
modiolus, Mya truncata and Chlamys islandica)
are also present, together with brown-stained
bivalve, barnacle and serpulid fragments, which
are relics of a lower sea level.

Implications for carbonate ramp models


and the rock record
In a ramp setting lacking protection from the
effects of swell, waves and storms, stratification
and facies styles are largely controlled by
episodic high-energy events such as storms. In
addition to these processes, on the West Shetland Shelf the margin is swept by the contourhugging, northerly flowing USCNE down to
400-600 m. Under this energy regime a more or
less uniform, gently inclined sea bed (with low
sediment accumulation rates and rapid postglacial rise in sea level) favours relatively thin
depositional units having a banded distribution
running parallel to the coastline-shelf edge:
these provide little opportunity for the development of pronounced sequence geometries (see
Burchette & Wright 1992).

The Shetland facies


To summarize, the inner ramp is a zone of steep
sublittoral bedrock and boulder fields with areas
of cobbles, coarse sand and shell gravels (Facies
1) inhabited by Modiolus modiolus, Ophiocomina nigra (Ophiuroidea) (Howson 1988) and the
associated Boreal Offshore Gravel Association
community (Holme 1966). Proximal middle
ramp facies (Facies 2--4) consist of clean-washed
bioclastic gravels with varying amounts of
quartz, and bioclastic quartz sands. The samples
and echo-sounder records (Stations 141 and 142)
show a zone of sand waves on a coarser bottom
with a shell lag veneer (Fig. 8) consisting of
bivalves, barnacles and serpulid fragments
(Table 2) formed by high-energy events such as
storms. Within the middle ramp the Foula Ridge
(Fig. 3), which is surrounded by a boulder field
colonized by the local encrusting fauna (Fig. 7),
acts as a barrier to possible sediment transport

processes up and down the ramp, and results in


a reiteration of Facies 1. During storm transport
grains finer than 170-200 p~m tend to go directly
into suspension (Bagnold 1966; McCave 1971),
and the shelf mud line on the WSS at 134 m
depth is characterized by sediments that contain
>10% mud, where weaker currents and local sea
bed depressions permit the accumulation of
these muds (Facies 7). Much of this mud is
calcium carbonate derived from the bioerosional breakdown of benthic skeletons and the
accumulation of pelagic ooze. Facies 8 (Ditruparich quartz sand) marks a coarsening of deposits,
which also become more quartzose and contain
more lithic fragments. The sediments of the
middle-outer ramp transition below 200 m are
coarser, being conglomeratic with an accumulating blanket of muds and sands (Facies 9).
Hydrographic data have shown that the
effects of severe storm waves can penetrate to a
depth of 200 m. The outer ramp (200-500 m) is
therefore defined as the region below storm
wave-base to a depth at which the azooxanthellate coral Lophelia pertusa has been recorded
(Wilson 1979b).
Deposits on the outer ramp are contourites
(Lovell & Stow 1981) being partly controlled by
the northeastward directed UCSNE. These sediments are sandy with coarse lags of gravel or
pebbles (Kenyon 1986). Current-reworked contourites with small-scale asymmetrical ripples
and current scours have been described along
the Hebrides Slope at 58~ (Howe & Humphery
1995). These features have also been observed
along the West Shetland Slope (Fig. 13a and b)
from underwater television observations
(Wilson 1975, 1982b).
The 'carbonate factory' extends onto the deep
ramp (>500 m), where thickets of Lophelia
pertusa (Hartley 1996) are known to occur. Information on the sediments of the continental slope
to the west and north of Scotland is sparse. Sands
and gravel extend downslope beyond depths of
400 m (Admiralty Chart notations; Berthois &
Du Buit 1971; J. B. Wilson, unpublished data).
Below depths of 600-800 m a 'mud-line' (Stanley
& Wear 1978), here termed the slope mudline,
has been mapped from north of Ireland to northern Norway (Kenyon 1986).

Storm and contourite current bedforms


Most studies on the influence of storms on
carbonate ramps (Markello & Read 1981;
Aigner 1982, 1985; Brett 1983; Brett & Baird
1986; Handford 1986; Wright 1986; Faulkner
1988) relate to ancient examples. Measurements
of the hydrological conditions occurring during

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES


storms are understandably rare. The sand transport paths on the continental shelves of the
British Isles are well documented (Johnson et al.
1982), but there are few direct observations of
transport on the northwest European continental slope.
The majority of sand bodies on the continental shelf around the British Isles show consistent
linear trends based on present-day semi-diurnal
tidal currents (Kenyon & Stride 1970), but in
some areas the effects are enhanced by currents
induced by long-period storm waves and storm
surges (Kenyon 1986). Underwater television
observations, echo-sounder records and sonographs show the presence of bedforms indicative
of storm formation, where symmetrical waveformed gravel ripples occur on the gravel floor
associated with sand patches on the middle shelf
west and north of Scotland. When spring tidal
currents are aided by storm waves, the transport
rate is estimated to be up to ten times greater
than during calm periods (Johnson et al. 1982).
As much sand can be moved during 1 day as
during the rest of the previous month (Johnson
& Stride 1969).
Sonographs have also shown bedforms on the
outer continental shelf, parallel to the shelf edge,
in the region of the Fair Isle Channel (Kenyon
1986). The USCNE is known to sweep onto the
shelf north of the Wyville-Thomson Ridge.
These bedforms (commonly, longitudinal sand
streaks and transverse, barchanoid sand waves)
may reach 1500 m in length and are presumed to
be formed by this current. Storm surges typically
develop on the open shelf west of the British Isles
and move in a northeasterly direction into the
Irish Sea and/or pass around Scotland through
the Fair Isle Channel and into the North Sea
(Kenyon & Stride 1970). Maximum storm surge
currents on the outer shelf are computed to be
over 60 cm/s (Kenyon 1986).
On parts of the upper slope west of Shetland
(and the O u t e r Hebrides) the p r e d o m i n a n t
bedform types are comet marks or narrow sand
ribbons (Kenyon 1986). These are predicted to
form under peak speeds in excess of 75 cm/s.
Peak current measurements for the b o t t o m
100 m of water at the stations to the west of Shetland (Gould 1984; C O N S L E X 1984) are up to
84 cm/s. The downslope limit of distinguishable
bedforms on the WSS slope has been defined at
500-800 m, which is consistent with the slope
mudline evidence.
W a v e bases a n d shell beds
In shelf and ramp facies it is useful to define
fair-weather wave-base and storm-weather

99

wave-base as tools for interpretation of ancient


deposits and the associated depositional
e n v i r o n m e n t s (Burchette & Wright 1992).
W h e r e deposits are accumulating relatively
rapidly, as in tropical carbonate settings, this is
likely to be a preservable marker. In a setting
such as the WSS, although the maximum depths
of wave abrasion may be discrete and definable
during conditions of fair weather or seasonal
storms of average intensity, in interpreting past
ramp models it is necessary to consider the net
effect of major storms over what might be
defined as the 'natural cyclic period of a region'
(such as an open shelf), say 100 years (Moore &
Curray 1964). T h r o u g h o u t Holocene time,
therefore, it can be estimated that one hundred
100-year storm events may have affected the
evolving carbonate system west of Shetland.
With an average sea-floor disturbance depth of
up to 10 cm, the consequences on a system
whose accumulated sediments during that
period range from 2 cm to 2 m would be to
disrupt the developing stratification and destroy
developing bioturbation structures, with a consequent high level of time-averaging (Kidwell
1991) of the deposits. Although muds are predicted to settle onto the upper slope below
depths of 200 m after severe storms, the USCNE
causes winnowing and reworking of the sediments with resultant alongslope and downslope
transport of some of the sands and muds, and
consequential destruction of the muddy sediments that geologists would recognize as a
'below-storm wave-base' signal. Instead, a transgressive marker bed might comprise the coarsest
material from the edge of the ice sheet that was
grounded at the shelf edge together with subfossil shells of the ice-house shallow-water fauna
and of the resident macroinvertebrate community.
Below fair-weather wave-base on the WSS the
sea floor is affected by tidal and ocean currents
and by waves during storms. Two storm processes can be distinguished though commonly
operating sequentially. Storms set up waves that
affect the sea floor and cause the reworking of
sediment and the development of bedforms.
Onshore-directed storms also generate currents
that lead to a build-up of water in the nearshore
region, and when the storm subsides, an
offshore-directed storm surge occurs. Shoreface
sediments are put into suspension and can be
transported considerable distances offshore in a
density current (Tucker & Wright 1990). Such a
process is likely to be much more frequent on a
ramp where the dominant storm direction is
onshore.
Shell beds or lag deposits are laid down by

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100

J.M. LIGHT & J. B. WILSON

storms and commonly show differences in character with increasing distance from the shore
and increasing water depth. The faunal composition of the skeletal carbonate of these sediments, as well as the variation in thickness, grain
size and internal structures, can be used to interpret the depositional environment. Reworked
shells in storm layers can be used as tracers for
storm transport, but on the WSS the presence of
the Foula Ridge and its associated shallowwater deposits creates an obstacle to predictable transport processes and distances. In
the West Shetland setting the proximal storm
beds are dominated by large autochthonous
shells such as Glycymeris glycymeris (Wilson
1986), and some allochthonous elements from
the coastal environment such as barnacle plates
transported by offshore gradient currents.
Down-ramp the amount of allochthonous
material decreases and distal storm layers are
almost entirely composed of autochthonous
winnowed shells. However, this model is complicated by the sea-floor topography, the effects
of the USCNE, variations in strength and frequency of storms and the locus of the storm
centre on the ramp itself.

Post-glacial transgressive sequence


development
The onset of the present-day carbonate factory
on the West Shetland Shelf marked the transition
from the periglacial, deltaic-siliciclastic Pleistocene regime, where sediments were glacial and
glaciomarine diamictons and muds, sands and
gravels (sometimes carbonaceous) (Stoker et al.
1993), to the Holocene transgression where preexisting sediments were reworked, sorted and
redistributed by wave and especially storm
action. These deposits are cobbles and boulders
(especially at the shelf edge), and poorly sorted
sands and fine and coarse gravels distributed
around pre-existing areas of rock outcrop. Tidal
current activity sorts and redistributes the finer
sediments into sand sheets. The early colonizing
calcium carbonate producing fauna of these sediments consists of infaunal bivalves, irregular
echinoids, predatory gastropods and burrowing
organisms such as polychaetes. Exposed
bedrock, cobbles and boulders are colonized by
epifaunal species such as bryozoans, barnacles
and serpulids, inarticulate brachiopods, boring
bivalves and epilithic gastropods. With further
sea-level rise, the establishment of bedforms and
the natural succession of the fauna lead to a
diverse suite of calcium carbonate producing
animals partitioned by niche across the shelf

(Wilson 1988). With little or no terrigenous


input, the sediments accumulating are the
product of the skeletal remains of the resident
fauna and some erosional products of the preexisting bedrock exposed at the sea bed. Bioturbation by the infauna and storm reworking
initiates mixing of the surface carbonate debris
into subsurface horizons, which changes the
texture of the accumulating sediment. Primary
colonizers of the early sediments die out and are
replaced by successive colonizers including the
SGBA. Winnowing by stronger currents and
transport by storm processes contributes to the
coarsening of the surface deposits (Wilson 1988).
Whereas coarsening and time-averaging of some
underlying skeletal debris occurs, other relict
grains become progressively comminuted as a
result of the various destructive biological processes. Some of the resultant mud may be transported offshore, re-sedimenting on the outer
shelf or continental slope, mixing with the
autochthonous pelagic muds and eventually
either breaking down completely or being transported downslope. The residence time of shell
debris and the erosion of shallower parts of the
shelf by storm generated offshore transport of
the coarser deposits are factors that will determine the thickness of the developing deposits
and the overall ramp profile. On the middle or
outer shelf, some localized autochthonous
deposits may accumulate subject to the extent
and persistence of the Ditrupa-bryozoan community. At this stage in the evolution of the
carbonate ramp system on the north Scottish
continental shelf (13 ka since the onset of the
Holocene transgression), available evidence
(Stoker et al. 1993) suggests local accumulation
rates in the range of 4-150 mm per 1000 years.
Under the present-day sea-level regime, the lack
of terrigenous input to the shelf will persist and
biogenic carbonate will therefore continue to be
the dominant constituent of the accumulating
deposits.

Conclusions: the West Shetland Shelf as a


ramp

Evidence has been presented to demonstrate


that the West Shetland Shelf and its associated
facies can be interpreted in the context of the
distally steepened carbonate ramp model.
(1) The platform is on a passive continental
margin and slopes at an overall angle of <1 ~ Two
breaks in slope occur: one at 134 m depth which
marks the shelf mudline, and a second at a depth
of 200 m at the middle-outer ramp transition on
the shelf margin, which is defined as storm

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WEST SHETLAND SHELF COOL-WATER CARBONATES


wavebase. A carbonate factory exists from the
inner ramp to depths of 500 m or more.
(2) Carbonate deposits are entirely biogenic
and the skeletal macrofauna is similar to other
non-tropical carbonates, both in the northern
and southern hemispheres, although there is a
variation in the relative importance of some
faunal groups over others. Bivalve molluscs, barnacles and serpulids are the highest contributors
to the sediments.
(3) Facies are coarse bioclastic gravels and
sands on the inner and middle ramp, becoming
finer seawards. Below the shelf mudline >10%
mud is present in middle ramp sediments. Distally, sediments coarsen with the presence of
relict glacial material: quartz sands, gravel,
pebbles and cobbles. Mud is still an important
component of these sediments.
(4) Analysis of the benthos shows that the
greatest diversity and density of the shellbearing fauna (especially bivalve molluscs) is on
the middle ramp. A t 200 m, at the second
increase in d o w n s l o p e gradient, t h e r e is a
marked change in the shell-bearing fauna, with
the presence of many species absent at depths
above 200 m. Some taxa from shallower depths
are also present (Table 4).
(5) The inner ramp is a very narrow zone
along the west Shetland coast, where the depths
increase rapidly offshore. The Foula Ridge
causes a local shallowing on the middle ramp,
and inner ramp facies are reiterated. West of
Foula, m i d d l e ramp facies show a m a r k e d
change in composition of the calcareous macrofauna forming the sediments.
(6) The role and importance of storms in
generating high-energy events capable of
entraining sediment at depths of up to 200 m and
thus controlling the textures and styles of
deposits has b e e n emphasized and the WSS
ramp is an i m p o r t a n t m o d e l because m a n y
ancient ramps also appear to have b e e n storm
dominated (Burchette & Wright 1992).
(7) The U S C N E and its effects on the sea bed
merit further study. It is likely to be an important
control on deposition and sediment transport in
the outer ramp facies.
(8) The WSS has b e e n compared with analogous carbonate ramps along the south Australian margin and on the continental shelf
around New Zealand. Although these various
carbonate factories exhibit a number of environmental and faunal similarities with the WSS,
some important differences have b e e n highlighted. The s o u t h e r n h e m i s p h e r e shelves
experience the effects of upwelling, the local
carbonate sediments are bryozoan dominated,
and the shelf edge e n v i r o n m e n t does not

101

d e m o n s t r a t e an i m p o r t a n t s e d i m e n t o l o g i c a l
break.
This research was funded by NERC Small Grant
GR9/02086 to J. B. W., which is gratefully acknowledged. The work was carried out while J. M. L. was
holder of the Royal Holloway University of London Amy Lady Tate Scholarship. The samples were collected on cruises undertaken as part of a major study
of shell gravels and biogenic carbonates while J. B. W.
was at the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences. The
assistance given at sea by former colleagues from the
IOS is gratefully acknowledged. P. Hayward is
thanked for assistance with bryozoan identification,
and A. Stride for improvements to the text. L. Blything
and K. D'Souza are thanked for assistance in production of the figures. J. M. L. would particularly like to
express her gratitude to D. Bosence, co-supervisor of
this research, for his contribution in constructively
reviewing manuscripts at critical stages.

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