Post-Eocene seismic stratigraphy of the deep ocean basin adjacent to the southeast African continental margin: A record of geostrophic bottom current systems

Tina M. Niemi, Zvi Ben-Avraham, Chris J.H. Hartnady, Margaret Reznikov

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A high-resolution seismic-reflection survey of the Transkei Basin and Natal Valley permits the first recognition of three major reflectors that mark basin-wide unconformities across the continental rise and deep abyssal plain off the southeast African continental margin. Reflector O marks a change in acoustic reflectivity, coincident with a change in sedimentary bedforms from generally parallel bedding below to large-scale lenticular and clinoform shapes above. Reflector O probably marks the onset of cold, abyssal current circulation around the Eocene-Oligocene boundary. The overlying O sequence records deposition of a contourite drift (Oribi Drift) by northeast flowing abyssal currents at ~ 4000 m water depths along the continental rise of the northeastern Agulhas Fracture Zone. This water depth is shallower than present-day Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW). The M reflector unconformity (possibly lower Middle Miocene) marks seafloor erosion in 4500 m water depth in the Transkei Basin and the cessation of drift construction along the continental rise. Above reflector M in the abyssal plain, a contourite drift (M-Drift) records deposition from an east-flowing bottom current in a location similar to, but slightly shallower than present-day AABW. The stagnation of bottom current activity in the northern Natal Valley and/or a rapid influx of sediment accumulation is marked by M sequence turbidite sediments (the Mzimkulu apron) deposited against and burying the Oribi Drift on the continental rise. Reworking of M sequence sediment along the continental rise to form low mounds (M4) and sediment waves in the northern Natal Valley indicate that a shallow, bottom current flowed at depths of 3800 to 3600 m. The coeval current-molding of the slope and abyssal plain indicates a two-layered structure of the bottom water may have commenced in the Miocene. Reflector P is the most pronounced unconformity in the deep abyssal plain, where it truncates M Sequence reflectors, and marks the base the Agulhas Drift which stands approximately 200 m above the surrounding seafloor. The P Sequence sedimentation is estimated to have begun in the Pliocene prior to or concurrent with an expansion of Southern and Northern polar ice-caps. Major slumping of the continental slope in the Natal Valley also began at this time, probably triggered by a combination of onland neotectonic activity and erosion of the base of the slope by vigorous bottom currents (possibly North Atlantic Deep Water, NADW). (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-258
Number of pages22
JournalMarine Geology
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2000


  • AABW
  • Contourites
  • Drift
  • Palaeoceanography
  • Southeast Africa continental margin


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