Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 March 2014
In this study, seismic stratigraphic criteria have been used to characterise the evolution of the Southern North Sea (SNS) shelf-delta system that progressively filled the Southern North Sea basin during Plio-Pleistocene times. Based on the prograding and down-stepping architecture of the shelf-delta sequence it is inferred that deposition occurred during a time of high sediment supply and overall sea-level lowering. During this time the delta slopes failed several times, creating at least 30 internally coherent Mass Transport Deposits (MTDs) mainly grouped in common areas, affecting the same clinoform set and partially sharing the basal shear surface (groups of MTDs). The most important features of the studied MTDs are 1) the dominance of brittle deformation; 2) the small amount of material removal from the headwall domain (lack of completely depleted areas above the basal shear surface); and 3) the lack of an emergent toe domain above the un-failed sediment located basinward, although proper confining geometries for the MTD are not detected. Therefore, the studied MTDs can neither be classified as frontally confined nor as frontally emergent but they are a new intermediate type of submarine landslides which has not been described before. These characteristics suggest that the mass movement ceased relatively soon after initiation of failure. Incisions on top of the MTDs suggest the presence of erosive flows. These flows were probably generated due to a concentration of the drainage in the negative morphology the failure event left behind in the upper sector of the slope. The stronger progradational character of the reflections on top of MTDs confirms a concentration of drainage after the erosional phase too.
The interplay between high sediment supply and constant or even decreasing accommodation space (caused by constant or decreasing sea-level) is supposed to be the main precondition for slope instability for most of the MTDs in this study area. Slope failures themselves can also be considered a preconditioning factor by the creation of local very high sedimentation rates (see groups of MTDs). Salt-induced seismicity and storm waves' effect superimposed on high frequency sea level fall are considered the most important triggering factors.
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