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Sandy contourite drift in the late Miocene Rifian Corridor (Morocco): reconstruction of depositional environments in a foreland-basin seaway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • W. Capella
  • F.J. Hernández-Molina
  • R. Flecker
  • F.J. Hilgen
  • M. Hssain
  • T.J. Kouwenhoven
  • M. van Oorschot
  • F.J. Sierro
  • D.A.V. Stow
  • J. Trabucho-Alexandre
  • M.A. Tulbure
  • W. de Weger
  • M.Z. Yousfi
  • W. Krijgsman
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-57
Number of pages27
JournalSedimentary Geology
Early online date21 Apr 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 16 Apr 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 21 Apr 2017
DatePublished (current) - 15 Jun 2017


The Rifian Corridor was a seaway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea during the late Miocene. The seaway progressively closed, leading to the Messinian Salinity Crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the key palaeogeographic importance of the Rifian Corridor, patterns of sediment transport within the seaway have not been thoroughly studied. In this study, we investigated the upper Miocene sedimentation and bottom current pathways in the South Rifian Corridor. The planktic and benthic foraminifera of the upper Tortonian and lower Messinian successions allow us to constrain the age and palaeo-environment of deposition. Encased in silty marls deposited at 150–300 m depth, there are (i) 5 to 50 m thick, mainly clastic sandstone bodies with unidirectional cross-bedding; and (ii) 50 cm thick, mainly clastic, tabular sandstone beds with bioturbation, mottled silt, lack of clear base or top, and bi-gradational sequences. Furthermore, seismic facies representing elongated mounded drifts and associated moat are present at the western mouth of the seaway. We interpret these facies as contourites: the products of a westward sedimentary drift in the South Rifian Corridor. The contourites are found only on the northern margin of the seaway, thus suggesting a geostrophic current flowing westward along slope and then northward. This geostrophic current may have been modulated by tides. By comparing these fossil examples with the modern Gulf of Cadiz, we interpret these current-dominated deposits as evidence of late Miocene Mediterranean overflow into the Atlantic Ocean, through the Rifian Corridor. This overflow may have affected late Miocene ocean circulation and climate, and the overflow deposits may represent one of the first examples of mainly clastic contourites exposed on land.

    Research areas

  • Marine gateway, marine sediments, sandstones, dune structures, contourites, Mediterranean Overflow Water

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