- © 2006 Cambridge University Press
The purpose of this paper is to document the influence of depositional environments on shallow-water, low-relief clinoforms from the description of five ancient carbonate platforms: the Neoproterozoic (Namibia), Middle Jurassic (France), Lower Cretaceous (France), Upper Cretaceous (Oman) and Miocene (Turkey). These examples have been investigated on the basis of field observations. The clinoforms are described with reference to geometric and compositional attributes: declivity, shape, height, sedimentary structures, sediment fabric and components. The results show great variability in stratal geometry, declivity and facies distribution: (1) depositional profiles vary from exponential, to sigmoidal, to oblique; (2) maximal slope angles range from 3 to 25°, most of them being grouped between 10 and 18°; (3) facies differentiation identified from lateral facies successions along beds, and vertical facies successions through beds, is pronounced to subtle. This study documents linkages between depositional environments and clinoform attributes. Proximal/shallow clinoforms display round-edged exponential profiles. Sediment deposition has resulted from unidirectional currents in the upper convex section, and storm-generated oscillatory currents in the lower concave part. The sediment fabric changes gradually along this type of clinoform. There is little vertical facies differentiation through these clinobeds which have formed from a continuous amalgamation of deposits. By contrast, distal clinoforms (shelf break, distally steepened ramp settings) yield a much broader spectrum of profiles and are generally shorter and steeper. Sedimentary structures in gravel-sized deposits of the upper slope indicate pure traction by unidirectional currents. Conversely, marks of oscillatory flows (undular, wavy top bounding surfaces of clinobeds) are common in the lower slope. Intercalation of massive, fine-grained deposits suggests offshore transport of carbonate mud by suspension. Each distal clinobed represents a single flow event. Accordingly, facies differentiation is weak laterally but may be pronounced through the clinobeds. Our study suggests that low-relief forms of proximal/shallow environments, which contain coarse-grained and photo-independently produced debris, record hydrodynamic equilibrium profiles, whereas the higher-relief forms of this setting rather reflect a high differential production rate of carbonate sediment with water depth. The carbonate sediment of the distal clinobeds mainly derives from skeletal production by oligophotic and photo-independent biota of the middle shelf/ramp and upper portion of the clinoforms. The contribution by in situ skeletal biota only becomes significant on the lower slope, indicating that the distal, submerged slopes of carbonate platforms are not organically but hydrodynamically generated. Our compilation shows that the slope angles of shallow marine, low-relief clinoforms do not simply correlate to the sediment grain size and fabric, in contrast to what has been documented for the high, linear slope profiles. This difference stems from the depositional settings, namely the involved transport mechanisms. Low-relief clinoform accretion seems to be dominantly influenced by wave-induced sediment transport, in contrast to linear flanks of high-relief clinoforms that build to the angle of repose, and for which gravity is the primary transport process.