Rediscovering the Magdalena Submarine Fan, Colombian Caribbean

Javier Idárraga-Garcia 1 and Hermann León 2

1 Universidad del Norte, Departamento de Física y Geociencias, Barranquilla, Colombia

2 Dirección General Marítima, Bogotá, Colombia

We present an analysis of the entire Magdalena Submarine Fan (MSF), from the shelf break to the distal domain, based on multibeam bathymetry, backscatter, subbottom profiler and regional seismic reflection data. The aim is to describe the MSF morphology and depositional architecture, propose a fan segmentation landform assemblage, and determine its extent within the deep basin. Three fan segments are identified: upper, middle and lower fans. The upper fan extends from the coastline to a depth of ~3000 m. Its eastern sector is characterized by a canyon system off the present-day mouth of the Magdalena River, through which part of the sediments are transported downslope to be deposited in intra-slope basins. The western upper fan is characterized by channel-levee complexes that are partially removed by mass transport complexes that originated near the continental shelf edge. The upper to middle fan transition is marked by a decrease in regional gradient and local relief, a change from large, irregular sediment waves to more regular waves that slowly decrease in amplitude downslope, and the appearance of erosional megascours. The middle fan bedform assemblage evidences the presence of a channel-lobe transition zone separating well-defined, upper fan channels from lower fan depositional lobes. The middle to lower fan transition occurs between ~3800 and ~3950 m and is defined by a further decrease in gradient and by a change from sediment waves to planar parallel-bedded reflectors on subbottom profiles. The lower fan extends to a maximum depth of ~4250 m and is characterized by an almost flat seabed (slope of 0.05°), interrupted by a few isolated bathymetric highs and low-relief channels (<5 m deep). The entire lower fan is interpreted as an area of turbidity current deposition, with relatively sandy sediments in the south and west giving way to muddier sediments in the northeast, which could correspond to distal fan lobes. Distally, within the Colombia Basin the fan terminates against areas of elevated seafloor, which have acted as barriers to sedimentation. Nevertheless, it was determined that the MSF extends beyond the Colombia Basin and locally reaches the Lower Nicaraguan Rise. In this new scenario, we established that the MSF has an area of ~237,000 km2, which puts it among the World’s largest submarine fans.

  • Javier Idárraga-Garcia, Hermann León