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The Mississippi Fan is a large, mud-dominated submarine fan over 4 km thick that was deposited in the deep Gulf of Mexico during the late Pliocene and Pleistocene. Analysis of 19000 km of multifold seismic data across the fan defined 17 seismic sequences, each characterized by a series of channel, levee, and associated overbank deposits, along with other mass transport deposits. At the base of nine sequences are a series of seismic facies consisting of mounded, hummocky, chaotic, and subparallel reflections, which constitute 10-20% of the sediments in the sequence. These facies are externally mounded in cross section and occur in two general regions of the fan. In the upper and middle fan, they occur below channels and are elongated in shape, mimicking the channel's distr bution. In the middle to lower fan, they have a fan-shaped distribution, increasing in width downfan. These facies are interpreted to have formed as disorganized slides, debris flows, and turbidites, and are informally called mass transport complexes.
Overlying this basal interval and characteristic of all sequences are well-developed channel-levee systems, which constitute 80-90% of the fan's sediments. Channels consist of high-amplitude, subparallel reflections. Levee sediments have subparallel reflections that have moderate to high amplitudes at the base changing upward to low amplitude. The vertical change in amplitude may reflect a decrease in the grain size and bed thickness of the levee sediments. Overbank sediments consist of interbedded subparallel to hummocky and mounded reflections, suggesting both turbidites derived from the channel, as well as slides and debris flows derived from the slope.
Pliocene-Pleistocene eustatic cycles are interpreted to have been the major factor controlling the timing and style of sedimentation in the fan. Mass transport complexes are interpreted to have formed during a lowering of sea level, and reflect sediments derived from retrogressive slumping during the formation of submarine canyons in the upper slope and outer shelf. Channel-levee systems were deposited when sea level was near its lowest position and sediment derived from deltas was transported into the deep basin via submarine canyons. During highstands in sea level, a thin layer of hemipelagic sediment was deposited on the fan surface.
The Mississippi Fan serves as an exploration model for mud-dominated submarine fans and has four prospective reservoir facies: channel sands with linear trends, unchannelized sands beyond the downdip terminus of the channel (possible lobes), potentially sand-prone levees immediately adjacent to initial channels deposited in some sequences, and limited parts of mass transport complexes.
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