Facies-neoichnological variability and sedimentation rates of modern continental shelves

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Current ichnofacies models for shelf environments are largely based on analysis of ancient sedimentary deposits and have rarely been applied to studies of modern siliciclastic shelves. Siliciclastic shelf margins are key components of source rocks and unconventional shale plays that can be used as modern analogs to ancient systems. This paper examines the sedimentology and ichnology of shelf margin cores of the Mississippi River Delta containing strata formed during the 2004 (Ivan) and 2005 (Katrina and Rita) hurricane events in the Gulf of Mexico, together with those from the Kikori-Fly-Purari rivers in the Gulf of Papua, New Guinea and the Tūranganui-a-Kiwa/Poverty Bay shelf deposits of the Waipaoa River basin, offshore New Zealand. The cores provide examples of modern-day traces created by marine organisms on muddy shelves and are used to evaluate ichnological models that have been applied to determine sedimentation rates and depositional processes in ancient settings. In total, six facies were recognised based on lithology and ichnological characteristics: (1) laminated very fine sand, produced by waxing and waning currents, displaying scarce to moderate bioturbation; (2) laminated silty mud, formed by waxing and waning currents, exhibiting scarce, very low to moderate bioturbation; (3) normally graded sand and silt, created by suspension settling following a wave-enhanced sediment-gravity flow (WESGF), which reveals low to moderate bioturbation; (4) fluid mudflow/suspension settling deposits, characterised by structureless mud with low to high bioturbation; (5) biogenically mottled silty mud deposited by suspension settling which show high bioturbation intensity; and, (6) storm-generated facies of laminated sand formed by rapid sediment accumulation on the shelf. The different study areas show remarkably similar traces with variable intensity, diversity, abundance and distribution. The Mississippi River Delta cores are typified by Helminthopsis, Chondrites, Schaubcylindrichnus, Skolithos, Siphonichnus, navichnia, fugichnia and abundant bivalve shells. The deposits from the Gulf of Papua consist of Phycosiphon, Chondrites, Schaubcylindrichnus, Skolithos, Helminthopsis, Arenicolites, worm-like traces and abundant bivalve shell fragments. In addition to the traces and bivalves, Tūranganui-a-Kiwa/Poverty Bay shelf includes Asterosoma, Thalassinoides and gastropods. These traces are consistent with the newly defined Phycosiphon Ichnofacies (MacEachern and Bann, 2020), which characterise muddy prodelta settings. This research demonstrates that the neoichnology of modern shelf sediments match models developed from studies of ancient systems, and provides a robust tool for analysing and interpreting ancient shelf strata.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Marine Geology