Ancient sand-rich submarine fans: Depositional systems, models, identification, and analysis

F. Mattern*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Sand-rich submarine fans are radial or curved in plan view depending on the slope of the basin floor. They occur isolated or in coalescing systems. The fans' average lateral extent measures close to 25 km and their thickness usually less than 300 m. The thickness of outer fan sequences averages around 120 m and that of middle fan successions around 160 m. Rarely reported inner fan sequences have a maximum thickness of 80 m. The formation of sand-rich fans is closely related to tectonic activity. Their sediment is coarse-grained and compositionally immature as indicated by significant feldspar content due to close provenance and rapid transport by short rivers with a steep gradient controlled by tectonism. Tectonic activity also provides for narrow shelves making the fans relatively insensitive to sealevel changes. Formation of sand-rich fans typically occurs in restricted continental basins. The tectonic settings are highly variable. Sand-rich fans typically receive their sediment through submarine canyons which intercept sand from longshore drift and/or are fed more or less directly by regional rivers. The type of ancient fan system (radial, curved, isolated, coalescing) may be identified through paleocurrent map plots, facies map sketches, recognition of lateral thickness variations and sediment influx centers, as well as lateral bed correlations defining the minimum fan extent. Important in distinguishing different environments of ancient fans are detailed measured sections, their comparison and correlation. Channelized inner fan and middle fan deposits may be distinguished from the unchannelized outer fan successions through bed correlation tests which reflect their different stratigraphic architectures and bedding patterns. Bedding in outer fan deposits (lobes) is relatively simple, parallel, and regular. The lateral bed continuity is relatively high. Channel fills, especially those of middle fan distributary channels, display a complicated bedding pattern with vertical and lateral random distribution of channel fills, axial erosion, and bed convergence towards the channel margins. Channel fills exhibit only linear bed continuity. Thus, the probability in carrying out local to regional scale lateral bed correlations is almost exclusively limited to outer fan deposits. The measured sections will help further distinguish fan environments by revealing: (1) different facies associations in outer fan sequences (mainly B, C and D) and middle fan successions (mainly A, B, C, D, and channel margin facies); (2) greater average bed and layer thicknesses in middle fan as opposed to outer fan successions ("bed" and "layer" as used herein); (3) more frequent amalgamation surfaces in channel fills than in unchannelized outer fan deposits; (4) more frequent tabular amalgamation surfaces in outer fan sections; (5) more frequent nontabular amalgamation surfaces in channel fills; and (6) more frequent dish structures in middle fan than outer fan successions. Rarely exposed fan valley fills may be identified by coarse conglomerat es. Moreover, in proximity to fan valley fills, relatively mud-rich sediments may be observed that derive from the depositional system of the basin slope.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-202
Number of pages36
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - May 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Analysis
  • Dimensions
  • Identification
  • Sealevel
  • Submarine fans
  • Tectonic setting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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