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The Orinoco turbidite system: AUTHORS

Yannick Callec  Institut Français du Pétrole,

Tectonic controls on sea-floor Direction Géologie-Géochimie-Géophysique,
1-4 avenue du Bois Préau, F-92852 Rueil-
morphology and sedimentation Malmaison Cedex, France; present address:
Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières,
Yannick Callec, Eric Deville, Guy Desaubliaux, Roger Service GEO/GSO, 3 av. Claude Guillemin,
Griboulard, Pascale Huyghe, Alain Mascle, Georges 45060 Orléans Cedex 2, France
Mascle, Mark Noble, Crelia Padron de Carillo, and Yannick Callec received an M.Sc. degree in geo-
Julien Schmitz sciences from the University d’Orsay, Paris XI
in 1996 and a Ph.D. from the Paris School of Mines
in 2001. He joined the Institut Français du
Pétrole in 2002 doing research on the CARAMBA
ABSTRACT project. Since 2003, he has worked as a sedi-
mentologist in the Bureau de Recherche Géolo-
Because of its location in an active margin context, the sand- gique et Minière for mapping projects and pe-
rich Orinoco turbidite system is controlled morphologically troleum exploration in west Africa.
and tectonically by the compressional structures of the Barbados
Eric Deville  Institut Français du Pétrole,
prism, and as a consequence, the sedimentation system does Direction Géologie-Géochimie-Géophysique,
not exhibit a classic fan geometry. The sea-floor geometry be- 1-4 avenue du Bois Préau, F-92852 Rueil-
tween the slope of the front of the Barbados prism and the slope Malmaison Cedex, France;
of the Guyana margin induces the convergence of the turbidite Eric Deville received an M.Sc. degree in geo-
channels toward the abyssal plain at the front of the Barbados sciences from the Pierre and Marie Curie Uni-
accretionary prism. Also, whereas in most passive margins the versity, Paris VI in 1983 and a Ph.D. from the
turbidite systems are commonly organized upstream to down- University of Chambery, France, in 1987. He
stream as canyon, then channel levee, then lobes, here, because joined Institut Français du Pétrole in 1990 doing
research on a wide range of sedimentary basins,
of the control by active tectonics, the sedimentary system is or- notably in the Alps. His main research interests
ganized as channel levee, then canyons, then channelized lobes. include deformation processes, thermicity, and
In shallow water, landward of the prism, the system has multi- fluid dynamics in convergent orogens and mud
ple sources with several distributaries, and progressively down- volcanism and shale mobilization processes.
ward, the channel courses are more complex with frequent Guy Desaubliaux  Institut Français du Pét-
convergences or divergences that are emphasized by the effects role, Direction Géologie-Géochimie-Géophysique,
of the undulating sea-floor morphologies. Erosional processes 1-4 avenue du Bois Préau, F-92852 Rueil-
are almost absent in the upper part of the turbidite system shal- Malmaison Cedex, France; present address: Gaz
lower than 1500 m (4921 ft). Erosion along channels develops de France-Suez, 361, avenue du President
mostly between 2000 and 4000 m (6562 and 13,123 ft) of Wilson, BP33, Saint Denis, France
water depth, above the compressional structures of the Barba- Guy Desaubliaux worked for two decades at
dos prism. Incisions show irregular meandering and sinuous the Institut Français du Pétrole as a sedimen-
tologist. He joined Gaz de France in 2008 where
courses in the low-relief segments and less sinuous courses he is now in charge of the coordination of re-
where channels incise the structures. Larger incisions (canyons) search programs.
are 3 km (1.9 mi) wide and 300 m (984 ft) deep. The occur-
rence of different phases of successive incisions is responsible Roger Griboulard  Département de Géol-
ogie et Océanographie, URA CNRS 197, Uni-
versité de Bordeaux-I, F-33000 Bordeaux Cedex,
Copyright ©2010. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved. Roger Griboulard is a researcher and teacher at
Manuscript received February 13, 2009; provisional acceptance April 2, 2009; revised manuscript the Bordeaux 1 University. His field of investiga-
received May 30, 2009; 2nd revised manuscript received September 28, 2009; final acceptance
November 2, 2009.
tion concerns sedimentology and morphotectonics.

AAPG Bulletin, v. 94, no. 6 (June 2010), pp. 869–887 869

He participated in several studies about the for the development of morphologically correlative terraces in
south Barbados accretionary prism and the deep both flanks of the canyons. This might be the consequence of
Orinoco turbidite system. He was the initiator
two mechanisms: the tectonic activity of the deformation front
of the CARAMBA project.
characterized by progressive uplift and thrusting of recent sedi-
Pascale Huyghe  Laboratoire de Géody- ments, and the superimposition of the cycles of the Orinoco
namique des Chaînes Alpines, UMR 5025, turbidite system. Piston-core surveys have demonstrated that
Université Joseph Fourier, F-38041 Grenoble
turbidite sediments moving through the channel and canyon
Cedex, France
system and deposited in the abyssal plain are mostly coarse sandy
Pascale Huyghe is a researcher and teacher at
deposits covered by recent pelagic planktonic-rich sedimenta-
the Grenoble 1 University. Her field of inves-
tigation concerns tectonics and sedimentation tion, which indicates that sand deposition slowed down during
on either onshore or offshore. She participated the postglacial sea level rise.
on several studies about the south Barbados
accretionary prism and its relationship with the
deep Orinoco turbidite system. INTRODUCTION
Alain Mascle  Institut Français du Pétrole,
Direction Géologie-Géochimie-Géophysique,
The Orinoco turbidite system develops from the east Vene-
1-4 avenue du Bois Préau, F-92852 Rueil- zuela and Trinidad continental slope down to the Atlantic
Malmaison Cedex, France abyssal plain (Embley and Langseth, 1977; Belderson et al.,
Alain Mascle received his M.Sc. degree in ap- 1984; Ercilla et al., 1998). Most of the recent sediments of the
plied geophysics from the University of Paris VI deep Orinoco delta and the southern Barbados ridge complex
in 1973, and his “Habilitation à Diriger des originate from the South American continent and are sourced
Recherches” from the University of Chambery- by the Orinoco River (Herrera et al., 1981; Milliman et al.,
Savoie in 1998. He joined the Institut Français 1982; Meade, 1990; Warne et al., 2002; Aslan et al., 2003), plus
du Pétrole (IFP) in 1973 as a geologist in charge
of the exploration of continental margins in some fine material from the rivers of the Guyana margin and the
collaboration with French oil companies. He moved Amazon transported northwestward by the Guyana current
to IFP in 1996 where he has been in charge along the South American shoreline. The Orinoco River con-
of different M.Sc. programs in both petroleum tributed to turbidite sedimentation in the Atlantic abyssal
geoscience and reservoir geoscience and plain during the late Miocene and has possibly contributed
since the Eocene ( Wright, 1984; Beck et al., 1990; Diaz de
Georges Mascle  Département de Géolo- Gamero, 1996; Di Crocce et al., 1999). Early multibeam and
gie et Océanographie, URA CNRS 197, Uni- seismic acquisitions imaged canyon incisions along the deep
versité de Bordeaux-I, F-33000 Bordeaux Cedex, turbidite system where the channels cross cut the frontal struc-
France tures of the southern Barbados accretionary prism (Biju-Duval
George Mascle is a professor at Joseph Fourier et al., 1982; Mascle et al., 1990). Coring surveys have evidenced
Grenoble I University. He worked in many parts the sand-rich nature of this turbidite system, notably in the abys-
of the world, especially in Sicily and the Hima-
layas, and he participated in many marine sal plain in front of the Barbados tectonic prism and in some
surveys, notably in the Mediterranean Sea. piggyback basins above the prism (Faugères et al., 1991, 1993).
Geophysical data acquired during the CARAMBA (Carib-
Mark Noble  Centre de Géosciences, UMR bean America Bathymetry) survey, with the French scientific
7619 Sisyphe, Mines ParisTech, Fontainebleau,
France O/V Atalante (65,000 km2 [25,097 mi2] of multibeam data
and backscattering imagery, 5300 km [3293 mi] of 6-trace
Mark Noble received an M.Sc. degree in geo-
physics from the University of Paris Diderot two-dimensional seismic lines, and 3.5 kHz profiles), provided
(Paris VII) in 1986 and a Ph.D. from the Institut a wide coverage of the Orinoco turbidite system with the ex-
de Physique du Globe de Paris in 1992. He ception of the very upper continental slope and the more distal
joined the geophysics research team of Mines zones in the Atlantic abyssal plain (Figure 1). These data
ParisTech in 1992. His current research interests coupled with the sampling of new Kullenberg piston cores
include theoretical seismology, seismic wave
(Figure 2) allow a better understanding of the whole recent

870 The Orinoco Turbidite System

depositional system and of the structure of the area. We present propagation, and tomography to characterize the
here the main results illustrating how the tectonic activity of the near subsurface.
Barbados accretionary prism controlled the sea-floor morphol- Crelia Padron de Carillo  Institut Fran-
ogy and hence the turbidite sedimentation. This example of a çais du Pétrole, Direction Géologie-Géochimie-
recent deep-water tectonically controlled turbidite system Géophysique, 1-4 avenue du Bois Préau, F-92852
can be used as an analog for the study of ancient and buried Rueil-Malmaison Cedex, France; Laboratoire
de Géodynamique des Chaînes Alpines, UMR
systems developed in active tectonic areas, including passive
5025, Université Joseph Fourier, F-38041 Gre-
margins with mobile substrata. noble Cedex, France; present address: Departa-
mento de Ciencias de la Tierra, Universidad
Simón Bolívar (USB), Apartado 89000, Valle de
GEODYNAMIC CONTEXT Sartenejas, Baruta. Edo. Miranda, Venezuela
Crelia Padrón de Carrillo received her B.Sc.
In the southeastern Caribbean area, the Caribbean plate cur- degree in geophysics engineering from the Cen-
rently has an eastward relative movement of about 2 cm/yr tral University of Venezuela in 1997, an M.Sc.
(0.8 in./yr) with respect to the South American plate. This degree in science of the Earth from the Central
movement is responsible for the frontal convergence between University of Venezuela in 2002, and a Ph.D.
the Atlantic oceanic lithosphere and dextral relative movement from Joseph Fourier Grenoble 1 University, France,
in 2007. She worked in PDVSA Exploration
between the Caribbean plate and the South American conti- from 1996 to 2002. Her experience is in seismic
nent (DeMets et al., 2000; Jansma et al., 2000; Weber et al., interpretation focusing on exploration projects
2000; Calais et al., 2002; Mann et al., 2002). In Trinidad, re- for the oil and gas industry, and her main re-
cent Global Positioning System calculations and a historical search interests include tectonics and sedi-
comparison of geodesic measurements onshore Trinidad have mentation and integration geophysics data. Since
shown that the present-day tectonic movements of the plate 2006, she has been a professor of geophysics
and seismic interpretation for undergraduate and
boundary are concentrated mostly in the southern part of the graduate students at Simon Bolivar University.
island (Saleh et al., 2004). The compressional deformation
front of the Barbados prism is transferred across the Orinoco Julien Schmitz  Institut Français du Pétrole,
delta toward the west to the southern area of Trinidad, the Co- Direction Géologie-Géochimie-Géophysique,
1-4 avenue du Bois Préau, F-92852 Rueil-
lumbus Channel, and eastern Venezuela where marine Late Malmaison Cedex, France
Cretaceous to Pliocene sediments are severely deformed with-
Julien Schmitz joined the Institut Français du
in a south-verging fold and thrust belt facing the South Amer- Pétrole in 1996. He participated in many ma-
ican shield (Jacome et al., 2003). rine surveys. His expertise during the CARAMBA
The turbidite system of the Orinoco delta develops at the project was in multibeam data processing and
southern edge of the Lesser Antilles active margin above the interpretation.
southern part of the large Barbados accretionary prism and
downslope at the front of this prism within the Atlantic abyssal
plain (Biju-Duval et al., 1982; Brown and Westbrook, 1987;
Deville et al., 2003b; Deville and Mascle, in press) (Figure 1). The AAPG editor thanks the following reviewers
for their work on this paper: John M. Armentrout,
Downslope of the proximal turbidite system of the Orino-
Bradford E. Prather, and Gabor C. Tari.
co delta, the deformation zone at the boundary between the
Caribbean plate and the South America plate is diffuse and
shows a high diversity of tectonic features (Deville et al., 2006).
In the shelfal area south and east of Trinidad, the recent defor-
mation is mainly characterized by strike-slip faulting (Mann
and Wood, 2003), whereas shallow extension tectonics have
favored the development of large accommodation areas for
recent sediments in the Columbus Basin, southeast of Trini-
dad, and in the Orinoco platform (plataforma deltana) in the

Callec et al. 871

Figure 1. (A) Sketch map of the Orinoco drainage area (black lines are the main channels; dotted lines are the supposed location of
main channels). (B) Map of the Orinoco turbidite system (white represents the emergent structures of the Barbados accretionary prism)
with the location of the cores of Figure 2 and the location of Figures 3–10. ODFZ = Orinoco delta fault zone. White arrows are pointing
toward the upstream part of the main channels.

872 The Orinoco Turbidite System

offshore of Venezuela (Galbraith and Brown, which control the channels courses (Griboulard
1999; Gersztenkorn et al., 1999; Heppard et al., et al., 1991, 1996; Faugères et al., 1993; Huyghe
1998; Gibson and Bentham, 2003). et al., 1996, 1999, 2004). In some areas, the devel-
In the area of the southern Barbados accretion- opment of ramp anticlines has formed closed basins
ary prism, the Orinoco turbidite sedimentation is disconnected from the turbidite sources. These
widely influenced by the sea-floor topography. Syn- starved basins show relatively deep sea floor ba-
tectonic sedimentation in the southern area of the thymetry compared to the surrounding basins par-
Barbados accretionary prism and in the deep At- tially filled by the recent turbidite sedimentation
lantic Plain contributes both to the growth of the (Figure 1).
Barbados tectonic prism, respectively, by piggy-
back basin development above the prism and by
frontal accretion at the convergent front. Upslope CHANNEL PATTERN
in the tectonic prism, the clastic sediment fluxes
are characterized by gravity flows (turbidites, grain Because of its active tectonic setting, the recent Ori-
flows, debris flows,…). This area is also character- noco turbidite system presents an atypical evolution
ized by hemipelagic sedimentation and recycling of of the channel architecture from the upper slope to
the sediments within the prism by superficial flows the abyssal plain (Huyghe et al., 2004), and chan-
from mud volcanoes and gravity mass flows sliding nels courses show a broad range of highly variable
on topographic slopes and resedimentation in the sinuosity (Figures 1, 3–8) showing similarities with
piggyback basins (in-situ source) (Faugères et al., equivalent systems (Saller et al., 2004).
1993). Upslope, close to the Trinidad-Venezuelan con-
Because of its location within an active margin tinental platform, the sea floor is generally regular
(east Caribbean or Lesser Antilles active margin), and is only locally disturbed by the edifices of iso-
the Orinoco turbidite system is not a passive-margin lated mud volcanoes (Brami et al., 2000; Rutledge
delta-fed deep-sea fan. The transport and deposi- and Leonard, 2001; Deville et al., 2003a, b, c; 2004,
tional system are controlled by the compressional 2006; Sullivan et al., 2004; Moscardelli et al., 2006;
structures of the Barbados prism. One consequence Deville and Mascle, in press). In the upslope area,
is that this turbidite system does not exhibit a classic sedimentation processes show a multiple-source
fan geometry. The sea floor low between the Bar- system with highly sinuous and meandering sub-
bados ridge and the continental slope of the Guy- parallel channel-levee systems. Courses of the chan-
ana margin induces the convergence of the turbidite nels become irregularly sinuous where folds and
channels toward the abyssal plain at the front of the mud volcanoes of the tectonic prism influence the
accretionary prism (Figure 1). In the upper slope topography of the sea floor. In several locations,
(above 1500 m [4921 ft] of water depth), the sys- avulsion processes can be observed (see example
tem has multiple sources with several distribu- in Figure 8), probably because of changes of the
taries. Downward (between 1500 m [4921 ft] and channel course related to the progressive deforma-
the front of the accretionary wedge), the channel tion of the sea floor associated with tectonic move-
courses are more complex with frequent conver- ments below.
gences or divergences, which are emphasized by Downslope, channels develop in the piggyback
the effects of the undulating sea-floor morphologies. basins above the accretionary prism (Figure 9) and
The geometry of the sea floor of the southern are characterized by well-developed aggrading
Barbados area highlights the complexity of the struc- channel-levee complexes with highly sinuous and
tures of the accretionary prism (Biju-Duval et al., meandering geometries (Figures 5, 7). As illustrated
1982; Mascle et al., 1990; Gonthier et al., 1994; on the seismic data, the channels are filling the syn-
Huyghe et al., 1996, 1999) where tectonics and tectonic piggyback basins of the prism, and in some
mud volcanism force the sea floor morphology, gen- locations, they are covering early deformation (fold
erating local highs and confined piggyback basins, and thrust structures, Figure 9). The general course

Callec et al. 873

Figure 2. Example of cores
collected during the CARAMBA
cruise of the O/V Atalante in
the Orinoco turbidite system. The
correlation line is the base of
the uppermost hemipelagic

of the channels is controlled by the orientation of the convergence and divergence of the channel courses
elongated piggyback basins. Severe inflections to- related to the tectonic control of the morphology of
ward the east or the southeast are observed when the the sea floor (Figure 1B). Local tectonic and mud
channels incise the northeast-southwest–trending volcanism processes induce frequent and massive
ramp anticlines of the tectonic prism, notably in the gravity deposits and control the morphology of the
frontal part of the accretionary wedge (Figures 5, 7). channels from narrow channel levees with locally
In the proximal downslope area above the com- confined levees in the piggyback basins to erosional
pressional structure of the Barbados prism, the drain- channels and canyon geometries where they cut
age network shows a complex architecture with through the structures (Figures 5, 7).

874 The Orinoco Turbidite System

Figure 2. Continued.

Callec et al. 875

Figure 3. Block diagram from the EM12
multibeam acquisition showing the ge-
ometry of the canyons within the tectonic
front of the Barbados prism. The channels
are converging at the front of the prism
within the abyssal plain.

Active thrust structures, as well as mud volcano course of the channels is much straighter. North-
edifices control channel courses. Levee deposits are ward, an older canyon is deformed by thrust tec-
locally pinched out toward the folds and the mud tonics (folded channel 1 in Figure 3). In front of
volcano edifices. Also, tectonics and mud volcanism the tectonic wedge, V-shaped erosional channels
processes induce frequent massive gravity-flow de- with numerous terraces characterize the transition
posits, which also contribute to control the mor- zone toward the abyssal plain where several smaller,
phology of the channels from narrow channel-levee commonly unleveed channels are dominant. Old
complexes with locally confined levees in the piggy- minor braided channels run along the front of the
back basins to erosional channels and canyon geom- wedge, and a major meandering channel runs to-
etries where they cut through the growing structures ward the abyssal plain where sandy distal lobes are
(Figures 5, 7). observed (Figure 6).
In the frontal zone of the tectonic prism, chan- In the upper abyssal plain, east of the front of
nel courses are mostly controlled by the complex the tectonic wedge, channels are V shaped with sev-
morphology of the sea floor, and their geometries eral terraces. Northward, in the abyssal plain, a large
evolve systematically to deep incisions (canyons). ultradeep sand-rich braided deep-sea fan devel-
Notably, four recent canyons with several terraces oped (Belderson et al., 1984; Ercilla et al., 1998)
deeply incise the frontal anticlines related to active with a main low-sinuosity channel, which presents
thrusting. Even the more erosive canyons have me- a broad geometry with low-relief aggrading channel-
andering courses (Figure 3). In the abyssal plain, the levee architecture. Northward, the channel-to-lobe

876 The Orinoco Turbidite System

Figure 4. Dip map deduced from the EM12 multibeam acquisition. Note the high values in the flanks of the canyon when they crosscut
the fold and thrust system of the Barbados prism.

transition is observed with plane-convex elemen- channel courses by confining the turbidite flows.
tary bodies, which are characteristic of sandy turbi- Incised channels show irregular meandering and
dite lobes. The main channel extends mostly north- highly sinuous courses in the low-relief segments.
eastward and probably joins the Vidal mid-ocean Where channels cut high-relief structures, they are
channel (Baraza et al., 1997; Ercilla et al., 1998). more confined without levee or with asymmetrical
levee deposits and are deeply incised with a charac-
teristic U shape (Figures 5–7). Downslope, channel
DEEP-WATER EROSION courses are controlled by the successive anticlines
and evolve systematically to canyon-scale geome-
The peculiarity of the Orinoco system is that no sig- tries with a progressively increasing depth of inci-
nificant recent canyon developed on the Guyana- sion. In the thrust front zone, low-sinuosity mean-
Orinoco margin shelf. This is confirmed by intensive dering canyons cut the anticlinal ridges (Figure 3).
oil and gas exploration in the offshore of Trinidad To clearly illustrate the geometry of the inci-
and in the Orinoco platform (plataforma deltana) sions, we present depth-migrated 3.5-kHz profiles
in the offshore of eastern Venezuela (Erlich, 1992; (Figures 5–7). Larger canyons show a maximum
Di Crocce et al., 1999; Brami et al., 2000; Wood, width of 3 km (1.9 mi) and depth of 300 m. Mean
2000; Moscardelli et al., 2006). Also, no significant dips of slope of canyon walls are steep, locally
erosion along the present shelf break and in the up- higher than 15° (Figure 4). In the frontal folds of
per slope is observed as noticed by Mascle et al. the accretionary prism, the channel course probably
(1990) and Brami et al. (2000). Whereas erosional preexisted the development of the final structure
processes are mostly absent in the upper part of of the fold (syntectonic erosion). Immediately east
the turbiditic system, they develop in the deep- of the tectonic front, the main channel is also char-
water area between 2000 and 4000 m (6562 and acterized by sinuous anatomy and also presents
13,123 ft) of water depth above the compressional canyon geometry with asymmetric levee deposits.
structures of the Barbados prism as evidenced by A progressive downward transition from U-shaped
multibeam data (Mascle et al., 1990; Deville et al., to V-shaped incision is observed, and several inter-
2003d; Huyghe et al., 2004) (Figures 3, 5). In the nal terraces appear in both flanks of the main chan-
erosional area, ramp anticlines and abundant sedi- nel. The occurrence of similar terraces in both
mentary mobilization (mud volcanoes) control the flanks highlights obviously that erosion occurred in

Callec et al. 877

Figure 5. (A) Sun-shaded
bathymetric map (EM12 multi-
beam data; location on Figure 1B)
and (B) depth-migrated 3.5-kHz
profiles located on the bathy-
metric map showing different
features of the erosion processes
along the main deep canyon.
In the upper part (profiles 1 to 7)
and in the abyssal plain (pro-
files 12 to 14), the incision oc-
curred within channel-levee
systems. In the front of the
Barbados fold and thrust sys-
tem (profiles 8 to 11), canyon
erosion occurred deeply within
ramp anticlines. Note the ter-
race geometry within the canyon
and in the incised channel-levee
system of the abyssal plain.

different phases of successive incisions, leading to erosion phases occurred during cyclic phases of a
the development of several terraces (Figures 10, relative lowstand of sea level when the transit of
11). Defining the precise cause of the development the sand-rich turbidites toward the abyssal plain
of these terraces is very difficult. They can be due was the strongest. During these relative lowstand
to the superposition of two mechanisms: (1) the events, a sediment bypass with transit of sand-rich
tectonic activity of the deformation front charac- coarse-grained sandy sediments responsible for the
terized by progressive uplift and thrusting of re- erosion in the canyons is observed. Muddy turbid-
cent sediments and (2) the superimposition of ity currents being more erosive than sandy ones, it
the fluctuations of the Orinoco turbidite system is also possible that the flows that erode the can-
activity. This second hypothesis is considered as yons are not the same flows from which the sands
the most probable, and probably, the successive are deposited (Deptuck et al., 2007).

878 The Orinoco Turbidite System

Figure 6. (A) Sun-shaded
bathymetric map (EM12 multi-
beam data; location on Figure 1B),
(B) backscattering EM12 multi-
beam data, and (C) depth-migrated
3.5-kHz profiles located on the
bathymetric map showing the ar-
chitecture of the channels in the
abyssal plain. Note the terrace ge-
ometry of the incised V channel-
levee system close to the tectonic
front (profiles 15 to 17) and
the U shape of the channel in
the distal area (profiles 18 and 19).
Sandy lobes develop north of
the abyssal plain (profiles 20 to 23).

FACIES DISTRIBUTION tation of multibeam data (bathymetric and backscat-

tering) and seismic and 3.5-kHz profiles. Available
We have seen that the channel pattern is different coring results from previous surveys were published
from passive-margin delta-fed deep-sea fans, but the by Faugères et al. (1991, 1993) and Gonthier et al.
Orinoco turbidite system is also different regarding (1994). These authors showed that turbidite sedi-
the spatial distribution of the sedimentary facies. ments transiting within the channels and canyon
The different facies that have been distinguished in system and deposited in the abyssal plain are mostly
the study area are shown on the map of Figure 1. sand rich. During the CARAMBA cruise, 25 new
This mapping results from the compilation of piston piston cores were collected in this area, the most
coring conducted in this area and from the interpre- characteristic being presented in Figure 2.

Callec et al. 879

Figure 7. (A) Sun-shaded
bathymetric map (EM12 multi-
beam data; location on Figure 1B)
and (B) depth-migrated 3.5-kHz
profiles located on the bathy-
metric map showing the lateral
evolution along channel 3.

Cores taken in the upslope area away from the turbidite channels in the area of the accretionary
turbidite channels show mostly hemipelagic sedi- prism show episodic or continuous successions of
ments with some clay-silt intercalations and very thin sandy turbidites with sequences of Bouma type
thin turbidites, and gravity mass wasting (slump) characterized by terms Tb, Tbc, Tce, and Tde,
occurrences (C-12, C-13, Figure 2). This reflects which relate to low-density turbulent flows (Lowe,
slope destabilization processes and significant de- 1976). These sequences are occasionally inter-
trital flux associated with proximity to the Orinoco bedded with slump deposits due to the destabili-
platform and influences of the Orinoco deltaic zation of the flanks of the channels associated with
plume. The highs on top of the folds of the accre- the development of small normal faults.
tionary prism are characterized by homogeneous In the channel axis, massive heterolithic mass
hemipelagic sedimentation (C-25, Figure 2). flows have been found (core C-20, Figure 2). In the
Cores taken from the downslope area close to closed (starved) piggyback basins above the accre-
the channel systems have found levee deposits cor- tionary prism, away from the present-day turbidite
responding to thin and fine-grained turbidites channels, low-density sandy turbidites have also
made up of centimetric laminations (parallel or been found (C-4, Figure 2). They most likely cor-
cross-bedded) of silt and fine sands. These deposits respond to deposits in ancient turbidite channels,
developed on the sides of the channels, but they which are now abandoned.
are also found on top of massive uplift structures Levee deposits cored within the piggyback ba-
(Deville et al., 2006) (see example of core C-10, sins above the accretionary prism correspond mostly
Figure 2). These cores taken on the sides of the to fine-grained silty turbidites. A good example of

880 The Orinoco Turbidite System

Figure 8. Avulsion example in the east-
ern offshore of Trinidad.

this type of deposit is given by core C-17 in Figure 2. that turbidite sediments moving through the
Coring inside the channel course was very difficult channel and canyon system and that are deposited
because of very hard grounds, and the only sedi- in the abyssal plain are indeed mostly coarse-grained
ments recovered correspond to heterolithic mass sandy deposits (Faugères et al., 1993) (Figure 2).
flows resulting from levee collapse within the Also note that fine-grained sandy deposits are
channel (see example of core C-20, Figure 2). stored on the outer shelf (Van Andel, 1967; Alfonso
In the abyssal plain, immediately east of the et al., 2006), and in the slope close to the shelf edge,
thrust front, the levee deposits correspond to fine- the channels are currently overlapped by recent de-
to medium-grained sandy turbidites (see core C-5, posits, mostly by mass flows on the upper continen-
Figure 2). Downstream, all the recovered cores in tal slope (Brami et al., 2000; Moscardelli et al.,
the abyssal plain were made of massive sandy tur- 2006) (Figure 1). As such, the traces of the chan-
bidites with debrite intercalations (see example of nels in the upper slope are commonly draped by
core C-2, Figure 2). The new piston cores taken recent sediments. The relative absence or thinness
during the CARAMBA cruise confirmed the pre- of this drape facies in channels farther downslope
vious results that well-developed massive sandy supports low sedimentation rates in the turbidite
turbidites are found on the abyssal plain east of channel system related to the rise of sea level since
the Barbados accretionary front (Faugères et al., the last glacial lowstand. Also, the sand-rich sedi-
1991, 1993). Sediments found in the abyssal plain ments deposited in the tectonic prism area and in
correspond to high-density massive sandy turbi- the abyssal plain are systematically covered by a few
dites characterized by sand-clay mixing intervals tens of centimeters of recent pelagic planktonic-
(slurry bed), reflecting abrasion processes of the rich sedimentation, which indicates that sand de-
sea floor (C-02, Figure 2). Finally, note that all the position has stopped since the last glacial event
available piston-core surveys have demonstrated (Figure 2).

Callec et al. 881

The Orinoco Turbidite System
Figure 9. Seismic lines and depth-migrated 3.5-kHz profiles showing the subsurface structure of transported syntectonic basins. Note the diachronism of the deformations. Some of the
folds developed recently and are probably still active as illustrated by the pinch-out geometry of the syntectonic deposits, whereas some are clearly sealed by the recent turbidite
deposits. TWT = two-way traveltime.
Figure 10. Location of the main terraces (in red) associated with the canyon system of the front of the Barbados accretionary prism (location on Figure 1B).

Callec et al.
Figure 11. Synthesis of evolu-
tion of the architecture of the
turbidite channels along the Ori-
noco turbidite system.

CONCLUSION tectonic control of the morphology of the sea floor.

The architecture of the channels shows high vari-
Whereas in most of the passive margin the turbidite ability from channel levee to canyon, controlled by
system is classically organized upstream to down- the morphology of the basement. The main erosion
stream as canyon, then channel levee, then lobes, is not located close to the present-day shelf edge, but
due to the control by active tectonics, the Orinoco it is spectacular in the deep-water areas (between
turbidite system is organized as channel levee, then 2000 and 4000 m [6562 and 13,123 ft] of water
canyons, then channelized lobes. Upslope, the sedi- depth). A wide zone of predominantly sediment
ment input is a mutiple-source sand-rich system. It transport (bypass) leaving only channel-levee de-
shows a relatively complex geometry with channel posits develops from above the 1000-m (3281-ft)
divergences in flat-floor syntectonic piggyback ba- isobath down to the abyssal plain. In the abyssal
sins and convergences in front of the prism. Sinuos- plain, the sedimentation is dominantly sandy. A
ity of the channels is highly variable because of the major recent straight channel is observed trending

884 The Orinoco Turbidite System

northeastward toward the deep Atlantic plain. and depositional processes: Gulf Coast Section SEPM
Memoir 20, p. 104–115.
Stacked sinuous channels are found trending north– Brown, K. M., and G. K. Westbrook, 1987, The tectonic fab-
south, parallel to the front of the accretionary prism. ric of the Barbados ridge accretionary complex: Marine
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Calais, E., Y. Mazabraund, B. Mercier de Lepinay, P. Mann,
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This system is currently in a low phase of activ- measurements: Geophysical Research Letters, v. 29,
no. 18, p. 1856, doi:10:1029/2002GL015397.
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DeMets, C., P. E. Jansma, G. S. Mattioli, T. H. Dixon, F. Farina,
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Deptuck, M. E., Z. Sylvester, C. Pirmez, and C. O’Byrne,
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