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Three distinct carbonate deposits have been identified on the slope and adjacent sea floor of the Southwestern Florida platform: (1) reef talus, recognized by shape and location, found on the upper slope of the Yucatan Channel and also east of the Marquesas Keys; (2) hemipelagic sediments, with complex sigmoid-oblique bed forms, filling the intervening gap between the channel and Keys and forming two lobes on the floor of the northern Florida Straits; and (3) turbidite deposits, with chaotic internal bed forms, covering siliciclastic Mississippi fan sediments at the base of the canyons in the Florida escarpment. The source of the talus, eroded and transported during the many storms which frequent the region, is the reef complexes which have formed on the platform rim. The sediment of he other two deposits is of foraminiferal tests, produced in nutrient-rich waters at the shelf edge. This sediment is deposited on the outer shelf and is vigorously transported southward as evidenced by 5 m (16 ft) high asymmetric sand waves.
Geophysical, geochemical, and sedimentological data suggest that the spatial relationships of these deposits are related to sea level variations. During extreme lowstands, with much of the shelf exposed, the dominant sedimentation is siliciclastic deposition on the abyssal floor, and slope talus development at the edge of the shelf. During a subsequent rise in sea level, after carbonate production on the shelf is initiated, sediment is transported southward to the head of the canyons and funneled to the abyssal floor. Subsequent rising sea level shifts the axis of transport farther on the shelf, bypassing the canyons and funneling the sediment through breaks in the carbonate reef-banks at the southern edge of the platform. At the sites of both the hemipelagic and the turbidite deposit on, high-resolution seismic data indicate that at least three cycles of deposition have occurred. In the abyss, this cyclic nature has produced alternating layers of carbonate and noncarbonate sediments, recognizable in the sedimentary record as chaotic limestone units interlayered with fine shales. The hemipelagic deposits would be almost indistinguishable in the geologic record from deep sea foraminiferal oozes.
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