Karst subsidence as a control on the accumulation and preservation of aeolian deposits: A Pleistocene example from a proglacial outwash setting, Ebro Basin, Spain

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Meltwater flows emanating from the Pyrenees during the Pleistocene constructed a braided outwash plain in the Ebro Basin and led to the karstification of the Neogene gypsum bedrock. Synsedimentary evaporite dissolution locally increased subsidence rates and generated dolines and collapses that enabled the accumulation and preservation of outwash gravels and associated windblown deposits that were protected from erosion by later meltwater flows. In these localized depocentres, maximum rates of wind deceleration resulted from airflow expansion, enabling the accumulation of cross-stratified sets of aeolian strata climbing at steep angles and thereby preserving up to 5 m thick sets. The outwash plain was characterized by longitudinal and transverse fluvial gravel bars, channels and windblown facies organized into aeolian sand sheets, transverse and complex aeolian dunes, and loess accumulations. Flat-lying aeolian deposits merge laterally to partly deformed aeolian deposits encased in dolines and collapses. Synsedimentary evaporite dissolution caused gravels and aeolian sand deposits to subside, such that formerly near-horizontal strata became inclined and generated multiple internal angular unconformities. During episodes when the wind was undersaturated with respect to its potential sand transporting capacity, deflation occurred over the outwash plain and coarse-grained lags with ventifacts developed. Subsequent high-energy flows episodically reached the aeolian dune field, leading to dune destruction and the generation of hyperconcentrated flow deposits composed in part of reworked aeolian sands. Lacustrine deposits in the distal part of the outwash plain preserve rhythmically laminated lutites and associated Gilbert-type gravel deltas, which developed when fluvial streams reached proglacial lakes. This study documents the first evidence of an extensive Pleistocene proglacial aeolian dune field located in the Ebro Basin (41·50° N), south of what has hitherto been considered to be the southern boundary of Pleistocene aeolian deposits in Europe. A non-conventional mechanism (evaporite karst-related subsidence) for the preservation of aeolian sands in the stratigraphic record is proposed.

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