D.J.W. Piper,2 C. Pirmez,3 P. L. Manley,4 D. Long,5 R.D. Flood,6 W.R. Normark,7 and W. Showers8


Seismic reflection profiles show at least four major mass-transport deposits (MTDs) on the Amazon Fan that drilling has shown date from the late Pleistocene. Each deposit extends over an area on the order of 104 km2 and is 50–100 m thick. The entire thickness of individual MTDs was penetrated at Sites 931, 933, 935, 936, 941, and 944, and wireline logs were collected at most of these sites. Most deposits consist of large deformed blocks (meters to decameters) of clayey sediment. A little matrix is recognized between blocks, and some weaker smaller blocks are highly deformed. Thin matrix-rich deposits with small clasts near the top of some units are true debris flows. Properties of clasts in the MTDs show a broadly repetitive character vertically within the deposit, on a scale of meters to tens of meters. There is no evidence that a long time span is represented by discontinuities in sediment properties; rather, this repetitive pattern probably represents retrogressive failure from a headwall scarp. Major units 20–50 m thick within the MTDs can be correlated between sites. Sediment properties and microfossils suggest that most sediment was derived from muddy channel-levee deposits on the continental slope, but some sediment (particularly near the base of flows) resembles local deep-water levee sediments. Mass-transport events are inferred to have initiated in slope and upper-fan levee sediments. This sediment was underconsolidated because of rapid prodeltaic deposition during marine lowstands as well as a result of the presence of shallow gas and gas hydrates. Local steepening and weakening by diapiric intrusion may also have facilitated failure. The ages of the mass-transport events may correlate with times of falling sea level, when gas hydrate sublimation could destabilize sediments. MTDs were partly confined by pre-existing channel-levee topography on the fan. In places, high-relief levee deposits were eroded by the mass-transport flow and incorporated in the basal part of the deposit.

1Flood, R.D., Piper, D.J.W., Klaus, A., and Peterson, L.C. (Eds.), 1997. Proc. ODP, Sci. Results, 155: College Station, TX (Ocean Drilling Program).
2Atlantic Geoscience Centre, Geological Survey of Canada (Atlantic), Bedford Institute of Oceanography, P.O. Box 1006, Dartmouth, N.S., B2Y 4A2, Canada. piper@agc.bio.ns.ca
3Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY 10963, U.S.A.
4Geology Department, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT 05753, U.S.A.
5British Geological Survey, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3LA, United Kingdom.
6Marine Sciences Research Center, State University of New York, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5000, U.S.A.
7U.S. Geological Survey, MS-919, 345 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025, U.S.A.
8Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, 1125 Jordan Hall, Box 8208, Raleigh, NC 27695, U.S.A.