Variability of depositional setting along the North-western Sicily continental shelf (Italy) during Late Quaternary: effects of sea level changes and tectonic evolution


Attilio SULLI, Mauro AGATE, Maria MANCUSO, Fabrizio PEPE, Valentina PENNINO, Sabrina POLIZZI, Valeria LO PRESTI, Francesco GARGANO, Francesco INTERBARTOLO
The geological, geomorphological and sedimentological features of the north-western Sicily continental shelf are here illustrated with the aim to propose a geological model able to explain the Neogene-Quaternary evolution of the Sicilian continental margin in the context of the central Mediterranean region. Above the continental shelf and upper slope the sedimentary succession, showing along the different sectors of the margin considerably variable internal geometry and stratigraphic relationships with the underlying units, is interpreted as a IV order depositional sequence (Late Quaternary Depositional Sequence, LQDS) deposited during the last eustatic change (last 125 ky). The lower boundary of the LQDS is represented by a subaerial erosional surface formed during the last eustatic sea level fall ended in the LGM (20-18 ka). This unconformity lies above a seaward dipping Pleistocene succession whose depositional architecture is in turn controlled by Quaternary eustatic sea-level fluctuations. A dense dataset of morphobathymetric and high resolution seismic data allowed to recognize along the continental shelf to bathyal plain system different types of continental shelf with different stratigraphic and morphostructural settings, associated to both large-scale processes and specific factors related to more local control: a) predominantly rocky shelves, both accompanied by a moderate frontal sedimentary prism and with a structural edge, in the structural highs of the Monti di Palermo offshore and around the main rocky headlands (Capo San Vito, Monte Catalfano); b), depositional shelves, in the Castellammare, Palermo and Termini Imerese gulfs, both with a regular seaward deepening of the substrate and with a substrate uplift at the shelf break. We confirm that depositional sequences in this margin are the result of the interaction between sea level changes and sedimentation, but demonstrate that the tectonic activity has played a key role, not only in the creation of different types of continental shelves, but also to determine the different characters of each sequence in different areas. The general tectonic uplift during the Pleistocene, together with the episodic alternation of extensional and compressional events, often with strike-slip component, is responsible for the thickness and facies variation both onland, where residual Pleistocene marine deposits today outcrops, and in the continental shelf, where most of the depositional sequences developed and are now recognized. As well tectonic activity exerted a control on the geomorphological features (e.g. pockmarks and mounds) of the present day coastal areas and shelf-slope system, as well as for the submarine canyons and the mass failure processes.
continental shelf, sequence stratigraphy, Northern Sicily continental margin, morphobathymetry, neotectonics
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