GEOLOGICA CARPATHICA, JUNE 2010, 61, 3, 201—209 doi: 10.2478/v10096-010-0011-6
The gravity flow dynamics of submarine fan sedimentation
in the Magura Basin of the Western Carpathians (Magura
Vavrečka 270, 029 01 Námestovo, Slovak Republic; firstname.lastname@example.org
(Manuscript received March 16, 2009; accepted in revised form March 11, 2010)
Abstract: This article deals with the dynamics of the deep-water gravity flows sedimentation within the Magura Forma-
tion. This investigation is based on analysis of the Magura sandstone sedimentary structures studied on the outcrops.
The final comparison of the sedimentary structures and cycles with the paleocurrent directions provided an interpreta-
tion of the gravity flows dynamics and helped to restore the migration of the sandy lobes in space and time. Three modes
of sedimentation are recorded: regular cyclic sedimentation from the lobe, irregular sedimentation from the immature
lobe and pelitic sedimentation on the basin plane without the lobe influence. We compared the occurrence of some
sedimentary structures with the changes of the current directions and bed thickness. The following interpretations of
gravity flow fan dynamics are results of this comparision: the fan consists of one or several lobes, the lobe branches out
into branches with the radial current arrangement, the lobes laterally change position and the lobes suddenly die out.
Key words: Paleogene, Outer Western Carpathians, Magura Formation, paleogeography, submarine fan model,
sedimentology, gravity flows.
Marschalko & Potfaj (1982) already studied several sections
in the Orava region with the help of sequence analysis in the
past. Other interesting sections also occur in this area. Their
study could complete the knowledge of the sedimentation not
only in the southern part of the Magura Basin, but also in other
deep-water basins. We will try to interpret the origin and fea-
tures of cyclic sedimentation. This sedimentation formed the
sandstone packets. Such packets are notable from morphology
and from many sections of the whole Carpathian flysch belt.
We focus on the analysis of gravity flows deposits in three
representative outcrops (Figs. 2 and 3) located in the Orava re-
gion (northern Slovakia, Fig. 1). The studied outcrops are situ-
ated at the end of Oravská Jasenica village in the Veselianka
river bank. They are about 14, 23 and 109 meters long (Figs. 2
and 3). The exposed sediments represent the Lower and Upper
Eocene Magura and Racibor Formations.
The flysch sediments form the study area. They were de-
posited in the Upper Cretaceous to Oligocene deep-water
Magura Basin. Sediments of this basin were folded into the
north-vergent imbricated folds and slices of the rootless
Magura Nappe (Fig. 1). This nappe detached from its sub-
stratum mainly along the ductile claystone rich Upper Creta-
ceous beds. The thrust-sheets form the accretionary prism.
This frame originated after the Oligocene. Three tectonofa-
cies units have been distinguished in the western part of the
Magura Nappe on the basis of the lithofacies differentiation.
The Rača, Bystrica and Krynica Subunits were distinguished
from the North to the South (Birkenmajer & Oszczypko
1989). Magura, Racibor and Malcov Formations were de-
fined in Krynica (Oravská Magura) Subunit of the study area
(Fig. 5; Potfaj et al. 1991). Different lithostratigraphy was
recognized in the continuation of the Krynica Subunit into
Poland (Birkenmajer & Oszczypko 1989).
Magura Formation (Upper Paleocene—Middle Eocene)
The Magura Formation (Fig. 3) (Potfaj et al. 1991) is a for-
mation of sandstone flysch character up to 1200 m thick.
Packets of predominatly sandstone flysch character a tens of
meters thick (Fig. 3 – Ve4) alternate with over 30 m thick
packets of thin-bedded flysch (Fig. 3 – Ve1). The Magura
sandstone type dominates. It is fine- to coarse-grained
greywacke sandstone forming beds from 2 to 400 cm thick,
with Ta(b), Tabc, and Tbcd Bouma’s divisions. It is from
blue-grey to brown-grey, with the addition of larger sandy
grains, plant detritus, claystone intraclasts and muscovite.
Clasts up to 2 cm in diameter either disseminated or arranged
in lenses, are common. Locally occurring fine-grained para-
conglomerates mainly contain clasts of quartz and frequent
mica schist, phyllite, feldspar, granite, cherty and pinkish
quartz. Tops of the thick sandstone beds are characterized by
reduced Tbc Bouma’s division and common claystone intrac-
lasts. Current marks on the bottom planes are expressive.
Thick claystone intercalations are made of Bystrica type cal-
careous grey silty claystones with sharp conchoidal parting.
The ratio of sandstones to claystones decreases from the bot-
tom to the top of the formation from 10 : 1 up to 1 : 1 (Potfaj
1983; Potfaj et al. 1991). At the same time the amount of thin-
bedded Racibor Facies intercalations increases upward. The
age of the Magura Formation is from Late Paleocene to Mid-
dle Eocene (Potfaj et al. 1991). A younger age of this forma-
tion is also possible (Oszczypko-Clowes 2001).
Racibor Formation (Middle Eocene—Lower Oligocene)
The Racibor Formation (Fig. 2 – Ve5) (Potfaj et al. 1991)
is a flysch formation about 600 meters thick with a high con-
tent of claystones, accompanied by fine- to medium-grained
sandstones. The ratio of the sandstones to claystones is from
1 : 5 to 9 : 10. The formation has 0.9 to 6 sandstone beds for
one meter of section. The sandstone beds are 5—90 (250) cm
thick. They have an increased content of carbonate clasts. Tbc
and Tabc Bouma’s divisions are predominant sequences. The
coarse- to medium-grained 60—150 cm thick Magura type
graywacke sandstones are frequent especially in the lower part
of the formation. Sandy-clayey 2—400 cm thick slump bodies
are common. 15 cm to 3 m thick beds of mudstones, and thin
beds or concretions of the pelosiderites are frequent in the
higher part of this formation (Potfaj et al. 1991). Žecová (pers.
com.) identified from the section Ve5 nannoplankton of the
Priabonian or even Oligocene age (Helicosphaera scissura
Müller, H. carteri (Wallich)).
Paleogeography of the Magura sandstone type
The Magura Basin was a deep-water basin about 200 km
wide and more than 700 km long (width approximate estima-
tion is based on knowledge of the length of tectonic folds,
while we know the depth of the Magura Nappe’s base and the
volume of surface erosion; Te ák 2008). The sediments of the
Magura sandstone type were deposited along the southern
margin of the basin. Their source area was situated south of
the Magura Basin.
The point-source sand-rich deep-water fan of the Magura
sandstone type was deposited from the gravity flows (Fig. 6,
Te ák 2008). A similar model of the point-source sand-rich
fan was described by Reading & Richards (1994). In their
opinion the sandy source type of the fan is characterized by
moderate size of the fan, 10—100 km long fan, radial/lobate
shape of fan, the slope gradient 2.5—36 m/km, close and mo-
derate/small size source area, feeding by shelf failure or can-
yon, > 70% sand percentage, the principal architectural
elements of proximal area were channels and channelized
lobes created a distal area, channel system: braided to low
sinuosity impersistent channels and chutes, and rapid lateral
migration of channels. Basic attributes of the Magura sand-
stone submarine fan were reconstructed from the current
marks study and the grain size changes (Bromowicz 1992).
The feeding canyon came into the basin from the south. The
distributary channel or upper part of fan turned sharply to the
west into the direction of the basin’s axis and branched out
into the fan. The measured current directions are oriented in
the basin elongation direction (ENE—WSW).
We used the following parameters for determination of the
cycles in sedimentological analyses: thicknesses of the beds,
sandstone/claystone ratio, presence or absence of the sedi-
mentary structures (Bouma’s and Lowe’s divisions; Bouma
1962; Lowe 1982), claystone intraclasts, slumps, marlstones,
pelosiderite concretions, current directions and erosion on the
base of the beds. The presence of the sedimentary structure in
the specific parts of the cycle is important too.
The investigation of the sedimentary structures was just the
first step of the facies analyses. The analysis of sediments con-
tinued by definition of the sedimentary cycles, investigation of
Fig. 1. Informative location map displaying the setting of the investigated outcrops in the Western Carpathians region.
THE GRAVITY FLOW DYNAMICS OF SUBMARINE FAN SEDIMENTATION (MAGURA NAPPE, SLOVAKIA)
the arrangement and succession of the sedimentary struc-
tures. The interpretation of the gravity flow dynamics result
from the final comparison of the sedimentary cycles and
structures with the current directions. This enables us to re-
store the migration of lobes in space and time.
Results – arrangement of the fan
Cycles of lobe sedimentation
The deposits of the deep-water gravity flows are in many
places formed into cycles. We distinguished deposition cy-
cles with the help of the sedimentological analyses of the in-
vestigated profiles. These cycles are characterized by the
regular arrangement of beds. The thicknes of the beds gradu-
ally increases and/or decreases upward (mixed cycle sensu
Marschalko & Potfaj 1982). The cycles were also described
according to this manner by Mutti & Ricci-Lucchi (1975).
The cycles with regular arrangement of the beds are also
called regular cycles. We can divide the observed regular cy-
cles into the cycles of the lobe sedimentation or the cycles of
pelitic sedimentation on the basin plane. The sandstone beds
with a massive structure deposited mainly from the debris
flows compose the cycles of the lobe sedimentation. The thin
bedded deposits or thick claystones usually represent the ba-
sin plane pelitic sedimentation. Clayey slumps, marlstones
and pelosiderites are also common in the pelitic cycles. It is
necessary to know the directions of the gravity currents for
interpretation of the sedimentary evolution of the cycle.
Pelitic cycles III and VIII are in the opposition to the clas-
tic cycles Ia—Ie, II, IV, V, VI, VII and IX (Fig. 2). The up-
ward coarsening parts of the cycles IV and VII in section
Ve5 (Fig. 2) are reduced while the upward thinning parts of
these cycles are well developed. The cycles II, IV, Va, Vb
and VII are well developed. The cycles Ia—Ie, VI and IX are
very thin and irregular. They are composed only of 1 to 3
thicker beds. This is not sufficient for the determination of
the cycle character.
The upward coarsening and thinning cycles differ not only
by bed thickness changes, but also by many sedimentary
structures. The characteristic signs of the upward coarsening
cycles are: erosion of the base of the cycle, larger floated
clasts, lenses or bedding planes with the coarser grains,
amalgamation of the beds, absence of the pelitic interbed-
dings and grainflow origin of the sandstones absolutely pre-
vail over the turbidity origin. These sedimentary signs
indicate the dynamic conditions of the current sedimenta-
tion. The upward coarsening cycles were often reduced into
several beds (2 to 4 beds). These are signs of the increasing
energy of the lobe. The upward coarsening and upward thin-
ning trends of the regular cycles are characteristic of the lobe
sedimentation (sensu Mutti 1992).
The upward thinning cycles are usually formed by more
beds than upward coarsening cycles. The thinning of the
beds developed continuously with the preservation of the
pelitic interbeddings. The turbidity origin part of the beds
with preserved Bouma’s divisions gradually prevails over
the grainflow origin base of the beds.
The upward coarsening cycles represent the outer fan, but
the upward thinning cycles represent the suprafan sedimen-
tation (Walker 1978). We can localize the sections Ve5
(Fig. 2) into the suprafan and outer fan border. Both regular
cycles developed simultaneously. The upward coarsening or
thinning cycles were reduced, or undeveloped. The regular
cycles were the products of the mature lobes. The successive
rotation of the current directions indicates the continuous
migration of these lobes. The lobes laterally migrate into the
below situated inter-lobe planes (e.g. Marschalko & Potfaj
1982). The thickest graded or massive sandstone beds were
deposited from the axial part of the currents (lobe). The pale-
ocurrent directions in the thickest beds (Fig. 2) are parallel
with the lobe elongation. The ENE—WSW lobe elongation
corresponds to the Magura Basin axis. The lobe elongation
kept constantly approximately the same direction (only
slightly meandering). The thinner beds were deposited from
the laterally retreated lobe.
The lateral migration of the lobe is responsible for the pa-
leocurrents direction changes. Continuous rotation of the
current direction can be observed in Fig. 2. The approach
and retreat of the lobe caused these current direction rota-
tions. The upward coarsening cycles represent the approach
stage of the lobe. The upward thinning cycles represent the
retreat of the lobe. The current erosion traces from the ENE
to WSW are characteristic of deposits from the centre of the
lobe. The counter clockwise rotation of the current directions
in the upward thinning cycles signifies the shifting (retreat)
of the lobe to the N. The reduced base of the upward coars-
ening cycle indicates the sudden impact of the lobe or ero-
sion of the lower part of the cycle by high-energy current
(cycle IV, Fig. 2 and middle part of the section Ve1, Fig. 3).
The very well developed upward thinning cycles are prod-
ucts of the continuous retreat of lobe (cycles IV, Va, VII and
II, Fig. 2).
Cycles Vb and Va were sedimented from different lobes or
branches. Cycle Va represents the return of the lobe of
cycle IV. Cycle Vb represents the shifting of the lobe to the N.
At the same time the deposition rise affected by the ap-
proaching branch (see current directions from the NE). The
sedimentation of the slumps and thick hemipelagic claystone
bed (cycle VI, Fig. 2) suggests that the branch of cycle Vb
suddenly died out. Walker (1978) also described several
meters thick shale bed that blankets the suprafan lobe when
it was completely abandoned by the channel switching (lobe
Interpretation of the trend of cycles could be difficult or
impossible in some cases. These indeterminate cycles are
called irregular cycles (deposition).
Irregular cycles (deposition) from immature lobe
Irregular cycles are too thin or irregular to define their up-
ward coarsening or upward thinning character. These cycles
originated in the period when the arrangement of the lobes
was unstable or the lobes did not even develop. The
cycles Ia—Ie, VI and IX are irregular (Fig. 2). The cycle Ic re-
sembles upward thinning cycle with regard to the bed thick-
nesses and the paleocurrents direction changes. On the other
Fig. 2a,b. Section Ve5 is situated near the Oravská Jasenica village. This section repre-
sents the sediments of the Racibor Formation. There is frequent switching of the cycles of
the lobes and basin plane sedimentation. Disorganized irregular cycles also occur. The in-
terpretation of lobe switching and migration is based on the relation between the cycles of
sedimentation, sedimentary structures and current directions (description in text).
side the cycle Id resembles upward coarsen-
ing cycle. The lower parts of cycles Ie and VI
resemble pelitic cycles.
Pelitic sedimentation on the basin plane
The domination of the claystones over
sandstones, thin-bedded sedimentation, ab-
sence of the thicker sandstone beds, presence
of the pelosiderite concretions, marlstones,
slumps and the constant longitudinal pale-
ocurrent arrangement are characteristic of the
period of basin plain pelitic sedimentation in
the Racibor Formation. The packets of thin
sandstone beds were deposited in periods of
minor fan activity revival of the distant lobe
(cycles III, VIII, Fig. 2).
The material of the slumps is usually dif-
ferent from surrounding deposits. Composi-
tion of this material is in some cases
intraformational breccia, but usually it is
plastic mud. Slumps may be the product of
tectonic activity of the South Magura Ridge
in this case. Instability of canyon or channel
walls is less probable. It appears from this
that the deposition of slumps is not character-
istic of basin plane deposition, but their oc-
currence in this type of sediments is striking.
The pelitic deposits have the character of
sedimentation on the basin plane (Fig. 2) or
on the stable distal part of the lobe (lower
part of the section Ve1, Fig. 3). This interpre-
tation is supported by the presence of the
pelosiderite concretions and marlstones in the
pelitic cycles. The sedimentation of marl-
stones is characteristic of slow deposition in
times of high sea level. The supplement of
the clastic material to the basin was reduced
and the productivity of organic matter was in-
creased (Leszczyński & Malik 1996).
The very stable longitudinal arrangement of
current directions of the thin sandstone beds in
the pelitic cycles is notable. They correspond
to basin and lobe elongation.
The current directions of the thin beds de-
posited from the lobe are different. They are
at an angle to the lobe elongation. These are
the deposits on the elevated interchannel
planes or levees.
The switching between the deposition of
the lobe and basin plane can be caused by the
migration of this lobe. This can also be
caused by the global sequence change of the
source area, for example by sea-level changes
or tectonic activity. Similar dynamic sedi-
mentation was striking in the thin-bedded de-
posits of the Beloveža Formation and the
sandstone-claystones lithofacies of the Soláň
Formation (Rača Subunit; Te ák 2008).
THE GRAVITY FLOW DYNAMICS OF SUBMARINE FAN SEDIMENTATION (MAGURA NAPPE, SLOVAKIA)
Fig. 2. Continuation.
Discussion – gravity flows
The term “gravity flow” was used inten-
tionally, because we distinguished struc-
tures of both “turbidity current” and
“debris flow” character in the sections (in
the meaning of Shanmugam 1997). Beds
originating from a single turbidity current
were rarely observed. Shanmugam (1997)
mentioned that normally graded Ta divi-
sion (Bouma 1962) is of turbidity origin
and the massive ungraded Ta division was
sedimented from debris flow. Shanmugam
(1997) also admits the conversion of the
gravity flow sedimentation from debris
flow to the turbidity current. We observed
a normally graded base of the bed 1 to
more than 20 cm thick. This sediment was
deposited from a traction carpet. 10 to
250 cm thick massive sandstone overlay
this base. The horizons or lenses include
many coarse clasts without significant
amalgamation, the water escape structures
and worm escape burrows sometimes de-
veloped in the massive sandstone beds
(S1, S2, S3 Lowe’s divisions – Lowe
1982). In Päira Cava (France; see Bouma
1962) the single turbidity origin beds are
also rare (personal investigation). Com-
bined debris and turbidity origin beds pre-
vail. The transition border of these two
deposition processes is sharp and this bor-
der is often defined by a claystone intrac-
It is possible to interpret the succession
of both the turbidity and debris character
of the gravity flow (Fig. 4). The erosive
frontal part of the current tore out pieces of
the claystones from the sea bottom. The
sedimentation followed after the erosive
front of the current. The graded base of the
bed was sedimented from the traction car-
pet. The frontal part of the current was fol-
lowed up by the denser core of the sandy
debris flow. The massive Ta division of
the sandstone sedimented from this denser
current core by its freezing. Lenses and ho-
rizons of the coarse clasts could be depos-
ited from the suspension or traction carpet
when a short gap occurred inside the sandy
debris flow (short events – windows).
They could also originate by bed amal-
gamation. Graded Ta division turbidity or-
igin sandstone was deposited from
suspension after freezing of the debris
flow. This border is often emphasized by
horizon of the claystone intraclasts, which
floated on the denser debris flow. They
were drifted by the denser current and fi-
Fig. 3. Sections Ve4 and Ve1 are situated north of Oravská Jasenica village. Alternation
of the horizons of the channel origin massive coarse-grained sandstones (Ve4) and inter-
channel thinner bedded flysch facies (Ve1) represents the switching and migration of the
lobes in these sections. There are frequent alternations of the current directions between
interchannel thin-bedded flysch and channel sandstones. Explanations see in Fig. 2.
nally sedimented when the current movement obtained the
laminar/turbulent hydrodynamic interface. The thin Tb or
Tbc laminated division sedimented by traction from the fin-
er, washy and turbulent tail of flow (compare with the inter-
pretation of the turbidity and laminar flow character of
gravity flow in Fig. 4).
Sediments of the gravity currents form the fans with the sys-
tem of lobes and channels. Reading & Richards (1994)
worked out a classification of the deep-water fans acceptable
for the Magura sandstone. This classification is based on the
granular composition of the supplied material and on the num-
ber of its sources. On the other hand in Shanmugam’s opinion
(1997), debris flows, unlike the turbidites, do not form orga-
nized systems. Debris flows form only iso-
lated bodies, which could be channelized or
non-channelized. However, a significantly
organized development of the gravity cur-
rent sedimentation was observed in the
Magura sandstone type in the Orava region
(Marschalko & Potfaj 1982 and this paper).
Packages of thick sandstone beds were ar-
ranged into cycles. Especially thicker beds
originated from the debris flows. The de-
bris flow products were usually overlaid
by thinner and finer-grained turbiditic se-
quences. These sediments were deposited
from the turbulent tail (cloud) behind the
debris flow as a result of deposition from
one gravity flow (Fig. 4).
The illustrative model of the Magura Ba-
sin (Fig. 5 and Fig. 6) displays the deposi-
tion of the Magura sandstone type
deep-water fan in the Middle Eocene in its
midwest part within the Vsetín and Babia
hora Mt. It is possible to interpret cyclic
progress of the deep-water fan sedimenta-
tion from the sedimentary structures in
many profiles. Their study is based on fa-
cies analyses. The final confrontation of the
sedimentary cycles and structures with the
paleocurrent directions gives rise to inter-
pretation of the gravity flow fan dynamics.
This enables us to reconstruct the migration
of lobes in space and time.
The central part of the lobe was not nec-
essarily channelized. The denser core of the
current flowed mostly in the wide axial
zone of the lobe. The current branches out
from the lobe axis and flows over levees.
Pickering et al. (1995) set the model of the
recent and ancient turbidity systems archi-
The thicker packets of the sandstone beds
create mostly regularly developed cycles of
sedimentation. Not much attention was paid
to the gravity flow directions and their alternation in the up-
ward thinning and upward thickening cycles. The gradual cur-
rent direction changes seem to have evolved by the lateral
migration of lobes. It is usually possible to interpret the ap-
proach, retreat, sudden birth and dying out of the lobe. We can
also recognize whether the studied outcrop was deposited in
the middle, left or right side of the lobe or fan. For example,
three studied outcrops (Figs. 2 and 3) deposited on the left
side and in the middle length of the fan (lobe).
We can recognize lobe position within the fan. This fan con-
sists of several lobes at the same time. The lobe branches out
into branches with a radial current pattern. They laterally
change position by meandering lobe in the upper and middle
THE GRAVITY FLOW DYNAMICS OF SUBMARINE FAN SEDIMENTATION (MAGURA NAPPE, SLOVAKIA)
Fig. 4. The model of conversion
from the debris flow to turbu-
lent and/or laminar current was
based on the sedimentary struc-
tures and process of their sedi-
mentation. Interpretation of the
debris flow and turbidite char-
Palinspastic scheme of the distribution and range of the depositional
fans in the western part of the Magura Basin (modified after Pivko 2000).
acter of current was based on their reology and process of movement (Bouma 1962; Lowe 1982; Shanmugam 1997, 2000). This figure displays
two sandy debris flow cores (grey) surrounded by the turbulent flow.
a – interfingering of the Pasierbiec and Magura sandstone
type fans (Lower Luhačovice and Bystrica Beds/Magura For-
mation, Middle Eocene).
b – interfingering of the glauconitic and Magura sandstone
type fans (Zlín Formation, Middle—Late Eocene).
fan and the lobe expires (dies out) when the supply of mate-
rial terminates (chokes) from the deposit logs of the Magura
sandstone type. These characteristic sedimentary features en-
able us to correlate flysch sequences more precisely and to
restore evolution of the lobe system of the fan.
The shape of fans was also affected by depositional pres-
sure of the adjacent fan. An example can be the contact of
Kýčera and the glauconitic sandstone fans. The alternation
of two types of sandstones can be demonstrated by the Zlín
Formation evolution in the central zone of the Rača Subunit
(Čertovy kameny and Luhačovice Anticlinal Zones, Babiše
Beds; Te ák 2008). The Kýčera and the glauconitic sand-
stones distributional systems were built by fans with few
point-sources. These fans coexisted simultaneously side by
side in the Middle to Late Eocene (Zlín Formation, Fig. 5;
compare Stráník 1965 from Eastern Slovakia). Their pale-
ocurrent systems were similar from the NE to SW in the Jav-
orníky Mts. Both fan systems interfingered. The northern
margin of the glauconitic sandstone fan, from which Lu-
hačovice Formation deposited, was significantly limited by
the synsedimentary fault.
Knowledge of the relations of current direction alternation,
sedimentation cycles and sedimentological structures to
channel migration has plenty of uses in basin analyses and
prediction of the stratigraphic traps of hydrocarbons.
Acknowledgment: Thanks to Dr. M. Potfaj for the excellent
introduction and the consultations of the gravity flows and
Carpathian flysch geology. I would also like to thank to jour-
nal referees for their reflections.
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THE GRAVITY FLOW DYNAMICS OF SUBMARINE FAN SEDIMENTATION (MAGURA NAPPE, SLOVAKIA)
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