Facies analysis of a Pliocene river-dominated deltaic succession (Siena Basin, Italy): Implications for the formation and infilling of terminal distributary channels

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Abstract

The recent recognition and description of terminal distributary channels in ancient delta-front deposits have led to important progress when it comes to understanding: delta construction processes; the plan-view shapes of both modern and ancient river-dominated deltas; and sediment dispersal within deltas. Deltaic deposits fed by terminal distributary channels can be observed in the extensive outcrops (approximately up to 300 m wide and 50 to 70 m thick) in the central sector of the Pliocene Siena Basin in Tuscany, Italy. Stratigraphic constraints indicate that the deposition occurred in relatively shallow marine settings, was not affected by tidal effects and was influenced only locally by wave action. As a consequence, these rock exposures provide an opportunity to investigate the facies assemblage of an ancient delta complex, which was built up almost exclusively as the result of river-related processes. The studied deltaic succession is composed of vertically stacked parasequence-like units, which are invariably characterized by the lack of coarse-grained distributary channel deposits at the top and an extensive network of terminal distributary channels that controlled the deltaic deposition. These deposits were interpreted previously as deep-water turbidites. This study provides new elements for the correct distinction between hyperpycnal-dominated delta fronts and basinal turbidite deposits. The terminal distributary channel facies documented in this study are more complex than those investigated in previous research. The channels are often passively filled during abandonment phases, and not just due to the aggradation and lateral/upstream migration of mouth bars, as classically proposed. Moreover, the frequent occurrence of mudstone beds just above the basal channel scours may be indicative of an abandonment phase after the channel incision, and before its infilling, with subsequent implications for the formational and infilling mechanisms of terminal distributary channels. Furthermore, the channel fills are often the result of alternating depositional and erosional phases, leading to a complex stratigraphic arrangement.

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