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Sedimentology (2008) 55, 9791009

doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3091.2007.00933.x

Architecture and evolution of the Paine channel complex,


Cerro Toro Formation (Upper Cretaceous), Silla Syncline,
Magallanes Basin, Chile
WILLIAM H. CRANE 1 and DONALD R. LOWE
Dept. of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305 2115, USA
(E-mail: hcra@chevron.com)
Associate Editor: Mariano Marzo
ABSTRACT

The Upper Cretaceous Cerro Toro Formation in the Silla Syncline, Parque
Nacional Torres del Paine, Magallanes Basin, Chile, includes over 1100 m of
mainly thin-bedded mud-rich turbidites containing three thick divisions of
coarse conglomerate and sandstone. Facies distributions, stacking patterns and
lateral relationships indicate that the coarse-grained sandstone and
conglomerate units represent the fill of a series of large south to south-east
trending deep-water channels or channel complexes. The middle coarse
division, informally named the Paine member, represents the fill of at least
three discrete channels or channel complexes, termed Paine A, B and C. The
uppermost of these, Paine C, represents a channel belt about 35 km wide and its
fill displays explicit details of channel geometry, channel margins, and the
processes of channel development and evolution. Along its northern margin,
Paine C consists of stacked, laterally offset channels, each eroded into finegrained mudstone and thin-bedded sandy turbidites. Along its southern margin,
the Paine C complex was bounded by a single, deeply incised but stepped
erosional surface. The evolution of the Paine C channel occurred through
multiple cycles of activity, each involving: (i) an initial period of channel erosion
into underlying fine-grained sediments; (ii) deposition of coarse-grained pebble
to cobble conglomerate and sandstone within the channel; and (iii) waning of
coarse sediment deposition and accumulation of a widespread sheet of finegrained, thin-bedded turbidites inside and outside the channel. The thin-bedded
turbidites deposited within, and adjacent to, the channel along the northern
margin of the Paine C complex do not appear to represent levee deposits but,
rather, a separate fine-grained turbidite system that impinged on the Paine C
channel from the north. The Cerro Toro channel complex in the Silla Syncline
may mark either an early axial zone of the Magallanes Basin or a local slope minibasin developed behind a zone of slope faulting and folding now present
immediately east of the syncline. If the latter, flows moving downslope toward
the basin axis further east were diverted to the south by this developing structural
high, deposited part of their coarse sediment loads, and exited the mini-basin at a
point located near the south-eastern edge of the present Silla Syncline.
Keywords Andes, Chile, conglomerates, debris-flow, submarine canyon,
turbidite.

Present address: Chevron Energy Technology Company, Houston, TX, USA.

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W. H. Crane and D. R. Lowe

INTRODUCTION
Interest in the architecture and evolution of deepwater sedimentary systems has grown as petroleum exploration has moved from onshore and
near-shore settings into offshore areas. Deepwater channel complexes have received special
attention as exploration has shown sand-rich
turbidite-filled channel systems to be major petroleum reservoirs (Stelting, 1985; Mayall & Stewart,
2000; Weimer et al., 2000). However, exploration
and development in present-day deep-water areas
involves high cost and high risk, and developing a
better understanding of the internal architecture
of deep-water sediment bodies is critical to mitigating this risk. Unfortunately, the scales of
observation afforded by three-dimensional seismic reflection techniques and core and well-log
analysis are insufficient to resolve bed and bed-set
heterogeneities in most deep-water sequences
(Mutti & Normark, 1987, 1991; Slatt, 2000). Outcrop-based studies play a key role because they
allow characterization of lateral and vertical variability at the bed-scale (Weimer et al., 1994,
2000; Bouma & Stone, 2000). Such studies have
focused on both the architecture (Morris & BusbySpera, 1990; Clark & Pickering, 1996a,b; Gardner
& Borer, 2000; Kirschner & Bouma, 2000; Hickson
& Lowe, 2002; Lowe & Ghosh, 2004) and the
depositional processes (Lowe, 1982, 1988; Kneller
& Branney, 1995; Sohn, 2000; Sohn et al., 2002) of
deep-water systems.
The Upper Cretaceous Cerro Toro Formation in
the Magallanes Basin of southern Chile provides
exceptional exposures of a large, mixed mud and
coarse clastic deep-water system (Katz, 1963;
Scott, 1964, 1966). Winn & Dott (1979) argued that
coarse conglomerates in the Cerro Toro, assigned
to the Lago Sofia member by Katz (1963), represent
the fill of deep-water channels and the associated
thin-bedded turbidites represent the flanking levees. Although commonly cited as a well-documented example of a deep-water channel-levee
complex, the Cerro Toro Formation received little
additional attention until the mid-1990s. More
recent studies of DeVries & Lindholm (1994),
Coleman (2000) and Beaubouef (2004) have presented depositional models for the channel-levee
system described by Winn & Dott (1979) in the
Silla Syncline area immediately east of Lago
Pehoe, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (Fig. 1).
These studies, and especially Beaubouef (2004),
have explored the genetic relationship between
the fine-grained mud-rich portions of the Cerro
Toro Formation in this area and the thick-bedded

sandstone and conglomerate. Beaubouef (2004)


provided a thorough discussion of the history of
geological study and interpretation of these rocks
that will not be repeated here.
The present study focuses on a major channel
complex in the Silla Syncline, also studied by
Beaubouef (2004). As will be shown, the results of
the present survey differ substantially from those
of previous authors and offer a contrasting view of
putative channellevee relationships in this area.
It is hoped that this study, when integrated with
other ongoing studies to the east and south, will
provide a regional understanding of deep-water
deposition within the Magallanes Basin during
the late Mesozoic and earliest Tertiary and a
clearer picture of the complex architecture of
channel-fill units deposited within small
intraslope basins associated with active tectonic
regimes.

GEOLOGICAL SETTING
The Magallanes Basin, located near the southern
tip of South America (Fig. 1), is bounded to the
north and north-east by the Rio Chico-Dungeness
Arch, to the west by the southern Andes and to
the south by a complicated series of strike-slip
faults associated with the Shackleton Fracture
Zone (Fig. 2A). To the south-east the basin opens
into the Malvinas Basin in the westernmost South
Atlantic (Biddle et al., 1986). Wilson (1983, 1991)
and Dalziel (1981) have characterized the
Magallanes Basin as a retro-arc foreland basin.
During the latest Jurassic and Early Cretaceous,
extension related to the break-up of Gondwana
resulted in the development of an oceanic backarc basin. Rocks of the Rocas Verde ophiolite
complex represent the remnant basement of this
basin (Dalziel et al., 1974; Dalziel, 1981; Wilson,
1983, 1991). Rhyolitic volcanic and volcaniclastic
rocks of the Jurassic Tobifera Formation and
mudstones and thin-bedded sandstones of the
Zapata Formation constitute the fill of the Rocas
Verdes Basin (Figs 2B and 3). During the Cretaceous, shortening associated with the onset of the
Andean Orogeny resulted in basin inversion
(Wilson, 1983, 1991; Fildani et al., 2003). Wilson
(1983, 1991) suggested that sands of the Punta
Barrosa Formation, which overlie the Zapata,
mark the initiation of foreland basin sedimentation in the Magallanes Basin. The Cerro Toro,
Tres Pasos and Rio Bandurrias Formations (Late
Cretaceous to Early Tertiary) record the filling
stages of foreland basin evolution (Figs 2B and 3).

2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

Architecture and evolution of the Paine channel complex

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Fig. 1. (A) General location map of the study area in southern Chile. (B) Map of the Puerto Natales and Torres del
Paine area showing the location of the study area. Black areas denote outcrops of major coarse conglomerate units in
the Cerro Toro Formation that form a northsouth trending belt from Lago Azul to Lago Sofa.

The Cerro Toro Formation is exposed as a series


of generally north to south striking ridges in the
fold and thrust belt just east of the Andean
Cordillera. Previously studied outcrops extend
from Parque Nacional Torres del Paine in the
north to near Lago Sofia, just north of Puerto
Natales, in the south (Fig. 1) (Cecioni, 1957; Zeil,
1957; Scott, 1964, 1966; Winn & Dott, 1977, 1979).
Additional largely unexplored Cerro Toro equivalent outcrops extend as far south as Tierra del
Fuego (Dott et al., 1982). Correlative units also
have been recognized further north in the region
of Lago Argentino (Arbe & Hetchum, 1984). This
study focuses on exposures around the Silla
Syncline in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
(Figs 1 and 4). At this locality, three major
conglomeratic units can be traced around the
broad, open fold, which extends more than 10 km
from Lago Nordenskjold in the north to just north
of Lago Toro in the south (Figs 1, 4 and 5). The
objectives of this study were to document the
sedimentology and depositional architecture of

one of these conglomeratic intervals, to explore


its implications for the development and geometry of deep-water channels, to evaluate the controls on Cerro Toro sedimentation in this area,
and to consider the relevance of these units to
understanding the broader issues of deep-water
slope-basin sedimentation.

STRATIGRAPHY OF THE CERRO TORO


FORMATION IN THE SILLA SYNCLINE
The Cerro Toro Formation in the Silla Syncline is
at least 1100 m thick and is underlain apparently
conformably by mudstones of the Punta Barrosa
Formation (Fig. 3). The top of the formation is not
exposed here but, on the eastern side of the
Magallanes Basin, Cerro Toro mudstones grade
upwards into sandstones and mass flow deposits
of the Tres Pasos Formation (Shultz & Hubbard,
2005). In the Silla Syncline, the Cerro Toro
Formation consists of three major conglomerate

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W. H. Crane and D. R. Lowe

includes Channel Complexes 2 and 3 of DeVries


& Lindholm (1994) and Beaubouef (2004). For the
present study, detailed stratigraphic sections at
28 locations around the Silla Syncline were
measured and correlated both to delineate the
extent of the Paine member and to serve as a basis
for interpreting its facies architecture and depositional history (Figs 4 and 5).

ARCHITECTURAL ELEMENTS OF THE


PAINE MEMBER

Fig. 2. (A) Map of southern South America showing


the main structural elements during the deposition of
the Late Cretaceous Cerro Toro Formation in the
Magallanes Basin. WE shows the line of the crosssection in (B) (after Biddle et al., 1986). (B) Generalized
westeast cross-section across the Andean arc, foreland
fold and thrust belt, and Magallanes Basin during
deposition of the Cerro Toro Formation (after Fildani &
Hessler, 2005).

and sandstone units within a section dominated


by dark-grey mudstone and thin-bedded, finegrained sandstone (Fig. 3). Previous studies have
identified coarse-grained units in the Cerro Toro
by either number or reference to measured sections (Scott, 1964, 1966; Winn & Dott, 1979;
DeVries & Lindholm, 1994). In the present study,
the coarse-grained units will be termed informal
members. The Silla Syncline section includes
three coarse units here named, from base to top,
the Pehoe, Paine and Nordenskjold members of
the Cerro Toro Formation (Fig. 3).
The most studied of these coarse-grained units
is the Paine member (Figs 3 and 5), which

Architectural element analysis has proved to be a


successful method by which to describe and
classify fluvial outcrops (Miall, 1985; Miall &
Tyler, 1991) and has found extensive use in the
description of deep-water outcrops (cf. Bouma &
Stone, 2000; Campion et al., 2000; Weimer &
Slatt, 2004). Ghosh & Lowe (1993), Lowe & Ghosh
(2004) and Pickering et al. (1995) proposed
slightly different methods of architectural element classification for deep-water sequences.
Whereas Pickering et al. (1995) defined architectural elements based on their geometry and
attached an interpretative name (i.e. channels,
nested channels, lobes, etc.), Ghosh & Lowe
(1993), Hickson & Lowe (2002), Lowe (2004) and
Lowe & Ghosh (2004), following the approach of
Miall (1985), have utilized a purely descriptive
methodology in which no a priori interpretation
is attached to individual architectural elements;
their scheme is a hierarchical grouping in which
first-order elements are the smallest lithological
units that stack to form progressively higher order
elements. For deep-water sediment gravity flow
deposits, first-order elements correspond to laminae that accumulated under essentially constant
depositional conditions, such as the sedimentary
structure divisions of the Bouma sequence; second-order elements correspond to individual
depositional events or sedimentation units or
beds; and third-order elements correspond to
stacks of similar sedimentation units or lithofacies. Fourth-order elements are composed of
lithofacies elements believed to be genetically
related to one another. This methodology has
been successfully applied to other deep-water
units (Hickson & Lowe, 2002; Lowe, 2004) and is
employed here to describe the Paine member of
the Cerro Toro Formation (Fig. 3).
Third-order architectural elements or lithofacies are the primary mappable units within
the Silla Syncline (Fig. 5). Individual units are
named based on their dominant lithology. The

2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

Architecture and evolution of the Paine channel complex

Fig. 3. (A) General stratigraphy of


rocks in the Andean foreland fold
and thrust belt and Magallanes
Basin in the vicinity of Parque
Nacional Torres del Paine (Katz,
1963; Wilson, 1983, 1991; Fildani &
Hessler, 2005). The Magallanes
foreland Basin is thought to have
developed initially during deposition of the uppermost Zapata and
lowest Punta Barrosa Formations.
(B) Stratigraphy of the Cerro Toro
Formation in the Silla Syncline.
Higher order architectural elements
of the Cerro Toro Formation defined
using the architectural element
nomenclature of Ghosh & Lowe
(1993), Lowe (2004) and Lowe &
Ghosh (2004) are shown on the
right-hand side.

Paine member includes five main types of thirdorder lithofacies elements: mudstone containing
<10% thin, fine-grained sandstone beds (IIImd);
mudstone and thin bedded sandstone (IIImd-ss);
thick to very-thick bedded sandstone with thin
interbedded mudstone layers (IIIss); clast-supported sand matrix pebble to cobble conglomerate
(IIIcgl); and mud-matrix-supported pebble to
cobble conglomerate or diamictite (IIIdia). Table 1
summarizes the bedding character, grain-size,
thickness and lateral extent of these third-order
elements. Additional details regarding bedding
character and distribution within fourth-order
elements are provided below and outcrop examples of each lithofacies type are presented in
Figs 6 and 7.

FOURTH-ORDER ARCHITECTURE
OF THE PAINE MEMBER
In contrast to sequence stratigraphic practice, the
architectural scheme laid out by Ghosh & Lowe
(1993) builds from first-order elements upwards
to progressively higher orders. The scheme
emphasizes description of process and deposi-

983

tional style at lower orders and progressively


more interpretation at higher orders. In this
scheme, fourth-order architectural elements consist of cyclically stacked third-order lithofacies
elements presumed to be genetically related to
one another (Ghosh & Lowe, 1993; Hickson &
Lowe, 2002; Lowe, 2004; Lowe & Ghosh, 2004)
(Fig. 4). Four coarse-grained fourth-order elements can be recognized in the Paine member in
the Silla Syncline. From base to top, these
include the Paine A (IVpA), Paine B (IVpB), Laguna
Negra debris flow deposit (IVpLN), and the Paine C
(IVpC) fourth-order elements (Figs 3 and 5). The
Paine A and B, and the Laguna Negra debris flow
deposit were collectively termed channel-complex set 2 and the Paine C channel-complex set 3
by Beaubouef (2004). The make-up, distribution
and stratigraphic relationships of fourth-order
elements around the Silla Syncline are shown in
Figs 5, 8 and 9.

Paine A (IVpA)
The lowest fourth-order element within the Paine
member, termed Paine A, is exposed in limited
outcrops at the southern end of the Silla Syncline

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Fig. 4. General aerial photo map of the Silla Syncline, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, showing main geographical
features, park highway and numbered measured sections.
2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

Architecture and evolution of the Paine channel complex

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Fig. 5. Geological map of the Silla Syncline showing main third, fourth and fifth order architectural elements.
Mapping completed during 2000 to 2004.

2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

Thickness: 10 to 100 m
Lateral extent: >10 km

Thickness: 30 to 100 m
Lateral extent: 5 to 8 km
Primarily occurs as a single
unit along the east limb of
the Silla Syncline (Fig. 5)

Thickness: 5 to 300 m
Lateral extent: up to 7 km
along bedding strike

Thickness: <1 to 60 m
Lateral extent: Locally
discontinuous where
truncated by other
conglomerates but one
unit can be traced for
up to 6 km (Laguna
Negra Debris Flow)

Dark grey mudstone with variable amounts of thin-bedded to locally


thick-bedded sandstone
Individual sandstone beds are commonly 1 to 10 cm thick.
Bouma Tbc and Tc divisions common
Includes minor debris flow deposits and zones of bioturbated calcareous
mudstone (Fig. 6B)
Deposits of low-density turbidity currents
Massive to normally graded S3 divisions (Lowe, 1982) generally 50 to
150 cm thick and commonly capped by thin Tb divisions
Individual sedimentation units may be amalgamated or separated by
thin mudstone beds (<10 cm)
Sedimentation units laterally continuous for tens to hundreds of metres.
Sedimentation units represent the initial deposits of collapsing
high-density turbidity currents
Sedimentation units are generally composed of stacks of inversely
graded R2 and normally graded R3 divisions (Lowe, 1982) or may be a
single R3 division. Cross-stratified (R1) divisions are present but rare
Well-rounded moderately to well-sorted pebbles 15 to 20 cm with
outsized clasts
Lenticular interbedded coarse to medium-grained sands
Deposits of high-energy gravelly turbidity currents
Mud-matrix supported conglomerate in beds 50 to 60 m thick
Deposits of cohesive debris flows
Distinctive beds showing clast-supported bases and mud-matrix
supported caps (Fig. 7F) believed to result from flows showing phases
of cohesion-dominated and fully turbulent flow

Clay-silt
interbedded
with 10% to
50% fine to
medium-grained
sandstone
Medium to
coarse-grained
sandstone with
minor shale
interbedded

Pebble-cobble
conglomerate
with variable
medium to
coarse-grained
sand
Poorly sorted
mixtures of
pebble, sand
and silt-sized
debris

Mudstone and thin-bedded


sandstone (IIImd-ss)
(Fig. 6B)

Medium to thick-bedded
sandstone (IIIss)
(Fig. 7A and B)

Clast-supported
conglomerate (IIIcgl)
(Fig. 7C and D)

Mud-matrix supported
conglomerate/diamictite
(IIIdia)
(Fig. 7E and F)

*Roman numeral and letter codes refer to map in Fig. 5 and correlation diagrams.
Bedding thicknesses after McKee & Weir (1953).

Thickness: 100 to 300 m


Lateral extent: >10 km

Dark grey mudstone with <10% thin-bedded sandstone


Bouma Tde divisions and thin Tc rippled sands laterally continuous for
tens to hundreds of metres
Deposits of low-density muddy turbidity currents

Clay-silt with
minor very
fine sand

Mudstone (IIImd)
(Fig. 6A)

Thickness and lateral extent


of third-order elements

Bedding character, continuity and


common sedimentary structures

Characteristic
grain-size

Lithofacies (third-order
architectural elements)*

Table 1. Summary of key characteristics of Lithofacies (third-order architectural elements) of the Cerro Toro Formation in the Silla Syncline. Turbidite
divisions after Bouma (1962) and Lowe (1982) and bed thickness description after McKee & Weir (1953).

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2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

Architecture and evolution of the Paine channel complex


A

Fig. 6. Examples of fine-grained lithofacies elements of


the Cerro Toro Formation. (A) Outcrops of interbedded
mudstone and sandstone (IIImd-ss) overlying the Paine
C member of the Cerro Toro Formation in section 5
(Fig. 5), immediately south of the park highway, west
limb of the Silla Syncline. The thickest sandstone bed
is about 1 m thick. (B) Normally graded very finegrained mudstone-dominated turbidites (IIImd) in the
Cerro Toro Formation, Silla Syncline. Light layers are
basal divisions of very fine-grained sandstone and
siltstone. Pen at left is 15 cm long. (C) Carbonate zone
(light grey layers) composed of thin Tcde turbidites in
thin bedded mudstone-sandstone unit. These carbonate
zones form traceable marker beds in the lower part of
the Cerro Toro Formation on the west limb of the Silla
Syncline. Hammer is 40 cm long.

and along the shore of Lago Nordenskjold at the


north-western corner of the structure (Figs 5, 8
and 9). In the southern outcrops this element

987

consists of a thin conglomerate overlain by a thick


sandstone unit. The conglomerate extends from
just north of the eastern edge of Laguna Lakal to a
point ca 1 km north of Brown Lake (Fig. 5), a
distance of 3 to 4 km. The conglomerate reaches its
maximum thickness of about 20 m near Brown
Lake; it thins to both the north, along the eastern
limb of the syncline, and to the south through the
hinge zone of the structure against basal erosional
surfaces cut into the underlying mudstone (Fig. 9).
The southern outcrops are correlated with a
conglomerate and sandstone unit that is at the
same stratigraphic position on the west limb of
the Silla Syncline just south of Lago Nordenskjold (Figs 5, 8 and 10). Here the Laguna Negra
debris flow deposit is underlain by a section of
mudstone, sandstone, conglomerate and debris
flow units that can be tentatively correlated with
both the Paine A and B elements to the south
(Fig. 10). The northern Paine A consists of at
least two major fining upward sequences composed of conglomerate and sandstone lithofacies.
This section reaches 60 to 80 m in thickness
along the shore of Lago Nordenskjold but is
absent 1 km to the south (Fig. 10). The Paine A
lenses out by progressive onlap at the base
against an erosional surface cut into the underlying mudstone (Fig. 8).
The Paine A conglomerate is overlain by a thick
sandstone unit along the east limb of the Silla
Syncline extending from just south of Lago
Nordenskjold to Laguna Lakal (Figs 5 and 9).
This unit reaches about 50 m in thickness and
includes, near the middle, a debris flow deposit
that maintains a nearly constant thickness of
about 7 m (Fig. 8). The sandstone section onlaps
an erosional surface that strikes approximately
N10W and dips west at 28 to 30. Because the
outcrop belt is nearly parallel to the strike of this
erosional surface and dips west at an angle less
than the dip of the surface, the sandstone thickens rapidly towards the west in valleys and thins
on intervening spurs. North of the park highway,
this sandstone thins by onlap against this basal
surface and pinches out completely immediately
south of Lago Nordenskjold.
Palaeocurrent data from clast imbrication in the
conglomerate and flute and groove casts in the
sandstone at the north-western end of the outcrop
belt indicate that the depositing flows moved
approximately S13E (Fig. 8). At the southern
end of the syncline, palaeocurrent measurements
in the Paine A conglomerate suggest a slightly
more eastward component to flows, with directions averaging S36E (Fig. 9). The location of

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W. H. Crane and D. R. Lowe

C
a
b

IVpC-IIIcg
IVpLN
IIImd

a
2

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989

Fig. 7. Coarse-grained lithofacies of the Cerro Toro Formation. (A) Interbedded thick sandstone and thin mudstone
beds in the Paine A unit immediately south of the park highway on the east limb of the Silla Syncline. In this
outcrop, the lowest beds in the sandstone unit onlap and wedge out against a west-dipping erosional surface cut into
the underlying mudstone-sandstone (arrow). A widespread debris flow deposit about 7 m thick is present near the
middle of the sandstone unit (a). (B) Sandstone bed unit showing vertical water-escape conduits (white streaks)
cutting across dish structures (faint horizontal laminations). Hammer is 40 cm long. (C) Outcrop of the base of the
Paine C conglomerate and the underlying Laguna Negra debris flow deposit (IVpLN), which overlies mudstone. The
thick conglomerate units in Paine C include numerous fining-upward, clast-supported to matrix-supported slurry
units (a, b). View is ca 15 m. (D) Inversely graded base to an overall normally graded, clast-supported, sand-matrix,
conglomerate bed in the Paine C division. Hammer is 40 cm long. (E) Homogeneous IIIdia unit representing a true
debris flow deposit. Unit shows slightly higher concentration of clasts in the lower 30 cm. Hammer handle at left for
scale (20 cm). (F) 15 m thick mud-matrix, clast-supported (1) to matrix-supported (2) slurry sedimentation unit that
immediately overlies the Laguna Negra debris flow deposit south of the park highway, west limb of the Silla
Syncline. This unit marks the base of the Paine C division in this area. The basal clast-supported division has a
muddy matrix. The matrix-supported top of this unit includes large suspended mudstone clasts (a). Measuring staff
next to white scale line is 15 m long.

outcrops, stratigraphic correlations and palaeocurrents suggest that Paine A was deposited in a
channel that trends into the sub-surface at Lago
Nordenskjold and re-emerges at the south-eastern
edge of the Silla Syncline (Fig. 11A). The change
in mean palaeocurrent direction suggests that the
channel bends slightly to the east. The sandstone
unit that overlies the Paine A conglomerate along
the east limb of the structure shows an average
current direction of S34E. This unit appears to
mark a late stage eastward shift in the Paine A
channel axis or a late fill that spread across a
wider area than the underlying conglomerate,
which would have been confined to the deepest
and narrowest portion of the channel thalweg.

Paine B (IVpB)
The Paine B element includes coarse-grained
units immediately underlying the Laguna Negra
debris flow deposit (Figs 5, 11 and 12). It is
limited in outcrop to a small area at the southern
end of the Silla Syncline and an outcrop just
south of Lago Nordenskjold at the north-western
edge of the syncline.
Along the south-western edge of the Silla
Syncline, Paine B is composed of a pebble to
cobble conglomerate up to 25 m thick overlain by
sandstone (Fig. 12); it overlies a mudstone unit
with only minor erosion evident at its base. From
its point of appearance the Paine B conglomerate
thickens rapidly to the south, reaching its maximum thickness of about 25 m just north of the
western end of Laguna Lakal (Figs 5, 8 and 9).
Around the hinge of the syncline, the unit thins
rapidly to the east and north-east (Fig. 9).
Although the basal surface is not apparent in
outcrop, the outcrop geometry suggests that the
Paine B conglomerate represents the fill of a

channel eroded into the underlying mudstonesandstone unit.


The sandstone element that forms the northern
outcrop of the Paine B element is exposed from
the south-western shore of Lago Nordenskjold to
just south of the park highway (Fig. 5) a distance
of ca 2 km. The unit ranges from about 50 to 60 m
thick at Lago Nordensjkold to 20 m thick 1 km to
the south and lenses out over the next kilometre
by onlap against a surface eroded into the underlying mudstone sequence (Fig. 10). This unit is
composed of massive medium-bedded to thickbedded, medium-grained to coarse-grained
sandstone showing only rare flat lamination or
cross-stratification and with little to no scour at
the base of individual beds.
Sparse palaeocurrent indicators in the Paine B
sandstone south of Lago Nordenskjold suggest a
mean flow direction of S16E (Figs 8 and 9). In
the correlative conglomerate unit in the south,
palaeocurrent data indicate a mean flow direction
of S24E. Distribution, geometry and palaeocurrent data suggest that the Paine B fourth-order
element represents a channel that trended southeast from the region near Lago Nordenskjold to
the southern end of the syncline approximately
parallel to the modern axis of the fold (Fig. 11).

Laguna Negra debris flow deposit (IVpLN)


Overlying the Paine B fourth-order element and
extending the length of the west limb of the Silla
Syncline is a thick section of mud-matrix-supported conglomerate, here termed the Laguna
Negra debris flow deposit. Where it crosses the
park highway, this element appears to be a single
sedimentation unit greater than 30 m thick composed of mud-matrix-supported conglomerate
(Figs 5 and 8). Traced south along the west limb

2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

Fig. 8. Generalized stratigraphic relationships and palaeocurrent data of units in the Paine member of the Cerro Toro Formation along the west limb of the
Silla Syncline. Locations of sections shown in Fig. 4.

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2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

Fig. 9. Generalized stratigraphic relationships and palaeocurrent data of major units in the Paine member of the Cerro Toro Formation around the hinge zone
and along the east limb of the Silla Syncline. Locations of sections shown in Fig. 4.

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Fig. 10. The Paine A and B members exposed on the south side of Lago Nordenskjold, northern end of the west limb
of the Silla Syncline. Paine A includes thick sections of sandstone and conglomerate that fill a channel bounded at
the base by a pronounced erosional surface (a). Paine B is composed largely of sandstone and interbedded sandstone
and mudstone. The basal Paine B units also lap out gradually up the hill to the south against a subtle erosional
surface. White bar at right is ca 40 m in length.

of the syncline, the Laguna Negra debris flow


deposit appears to be continuous and averages 30
to 40 m thick; it thickens to over 60 m directly
above the Paine B conglomerate at the southwestern edge of the syncline (Fig. 5). From this
point the debris flow deposit thins abruptly
around the southern hinge of the syncline and is
absent along most of the eastern limb.
It seems likely that the enormous debris flow(s)
that deposited this unit passed through and filled
the Paine B channel and spilled out of channel, at
least along its western bank, mantling the surrounding sediment surface. This debris flow
buried the pre-existing Paine B channel, obliterated much of the small-scale topography of the
local depositional system that existed up to that
time, and effectively reset the system for succeeding flows and depositional events.

Paine C (IVpC)
The Paine C fourth-order element is the best
exposed and thickest of the coarse fourth-order
elements in the Cerro Toro Formation in the
Silla Syncline. This element can be traced in
outcrop from north of the park highway on the
west limb around the southern end of the
syncline and up the eastern limb to Lago Pincol

and Lago Sarmiento Chico, where the outcrop


edge trends across the axis of the syncline to the
west limb (Figs 4, 5, 8 and 9). The bulk of the
Paine C is composed of amalgamated conglomeratic depositional elements (Fig. 7). Sections
along the central part of the syncline are capped
by a thick section of sandstone (Fig. 5) but, over
the southern half of the syncline, the top of
Paine C has been removed by modern erosion
and conglomerate of Paine C is the youngest rock
exposed. The Paine C conglomerate is characterized by thick, amalgamated, clast-supported
sedimentation units that may be massive, consist
of a normally-graded R3 division, or include
an inversely-graded R2 division overlain by a
normally-graded R3 division. Individual sedimentation units are laterally discontinuous and
show abundant cut and fill features. Clasts
average 5 to 8 cm in diameter and rare outsized
clasts can reach 20 to 30 cm. Normally graded
diamictite-to-conglomerate slurry flow units are
widely developed, making up perhaps 15% to
20% of most Paine C sections. Interbedded
lenses and layers of medium-grained to coarsegrained sandstone (Fig. 7) make up another 10 to
15% of most conglomeratic sections.
The Paine C conglomerate reaches a maximum
thickness of 150 to 200 m on the west limb of the

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Fig. 11. Generalized maps of the


channel systems making up the
Paine channel complex. (A) Paine A
conglomerate-filled channel trending from Lago Nordenskjold to the
south-eastern side of the Silla Syncline. (B) Sandstone-filled Paine A
channel that may have had an axis
situated slightly east of that of the
underlying conglomeratic channel.
(C) Probable location of the Paine B
channel system; its axis was located
west of the Paine A channel, more or
less along the present axis of the
Silla Syncline. (D) South-east
trending Paine C channel system.

Silla Syncline near section 12 (Fig. 4) and thins to


both the north and south; it is over 150 m thick
near Brown Lake (section 22, Fig. 4) on the east
limb, again thinning to both the north and south.
The maximum-thickness trend across the syn-

cline has an orientation of S32E, parallel to the


palaeocurrent directions in the conglomerate,
S30-35E (Figs 8 and 9). This trend appears to
define the axis of a major channel within which the
bulk of the Paine C conglomerate was deposited

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Northern channel margin

Fig. 12. Section through the Paine B channel fill on the


south-western part of the Silla Syncline (section 16,
Fig. 4). Sedimentary structure divisions after Bouma
(1962) and Lowe (1982).

(Fig. 11D). This channel has been previously


recognized and discussed by DeVries & Lindholm
(1994) and Beaubouef (2004). Both northern
and southern margins of this channel are wellexposed on the west limb of the syncline and will
be discussed in detail below.

ARCHITECTURE OF THE PAINE


C CHANNEL
Coarse sediments of the Paine C member were
deposited in and adjacent to a major channel
complex that crossed the present Silla Syncline
from north-west to south-east. The following
sections will explore the architecture and evolution of this channel complex.

Major thickness and facies changes mark the


northern margin of the Paine C division along the
west limb and across the axial zone of the Silla
Syncline. Over a distance of about 4 km south
from the park highway, conglomerate in the Paine
C increases from a cumulative thickness of less
than 10 m to over 150 m thick. This southward
thickening reflects both facies changes and the
presence of a series of stacked, laterally offset
erosional channel margins (Figs 5, 8 and 13);
collectively, these form the composite northern
margin of the Paine C channel complex.
Each component channel margin appears as a
south-east-striking and south-west-dipping erosional surface cut into thin-bedded mudstone and
sandstone, locally draped by mudstone, and filled
and onlapped by thick-bedded sandstone and
conglomerate grading upward into thin-bedded
mudstone and sandstone (Fig. 13). The finergrained Tde portions of many turbidites continue
up onto the erosional surfaces, forming muddy
drapes. The coarser fill of each channel laps out to
the north-east against the erosional channel margin or drape. Within each channel the lowest fill
coarsens to the south and is eventually replaced
by conglomerate. Overlying the coarse basal fill,
the higher fill of each channel consists of interbedded mudstone and sandstone that merges into
the thick mudstone section above Paine C to the
north and is cut by the next higher erosional
surface to the south (Fig. 13). Five, and perhaps
as many as six, major surfaces have been recognized and there are probably other, as yet undiscovered, surfaces within the mudstone,
interbedded mudstone and sandstone units above
and laterally equivalent to the Paine C conglomerate (Figs 8 and 13).
Along most of the west limb of the Silla
Syncline, the Laguna Negra debris flow deposit
averages about 30 m thick and shows little
evidence of erosion during deposition of the
overlying Paine C layers. This deposit evidently
formed a firm, cohesive substrate that resisted
erosion by the turbidity currents depositing the
Paine C gravels and sands and widely formed a
floor to the Paine C channel complex. Just south
of the park highway (Fig. 14, column 5), the 14 m
thick slurry flow deposit that forms the base of the
Paine division in this area is capped by a 13 m
thick fining upward sequence of conglomerate,
sandstone, and thin-bedded sandstone and mudstone. Following emplacement of the Laguna
Negra debris flow deposit and an immediately

2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

Fig. 13. Stratigraphy of the northern margin of the Paine C channel complex, northern part of the west limb of the Silla Syncline. The margin is characterized by
a series of offset, southwest dipping erosional surfaces, here numbered surfaces 1 to 6, against which coarser channel-fill conglomerates and sandstones lap out
to the north-east. Stratigraphically equivalent units north of the channel-margin surfaces consist largely of thin-bedded mudstone and interbedded sandstone
and mudstone. Palaeocurrent data show that palaeocurrents in channel-fill conglomerate and sandstone are towards the south-east while those in the outof-channel mudstone and interbedded sandstone and mudstone are either towards the south-east, parallel to those in the channel, or to the south, towards the
channel axis. Locations of sections shown in Fig. 4.

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Fig. 14. Measured sections of the


lower part of the Paine C division in
sections 5, 6 and 7 (Fig. 4) immediately south of the park highway
showing the rapid facies changes.
The base of Paine C is located 15 m
below 0 in these sections. Some 8
to 10 m of mudstone and sandstone
in the lower part of section 5 are cut
out along surface 1 and replaced to
the south in sections 6 and 7 by
conglomerate and coarse-grained
sandstone. Above 13 m in section 5,
coarse beds appear to thin and fine
individually to the north.
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Fig. 15. View of surface 2 on the west limb of the Silla Syncline about 07 km south of the park highway. The surface
cuts down through a thick section of mudstone and interbedded mudstone and sandstone (a). The lower part of the
channel fill above surface 2 includes three prominent sandstone beds, numbered 1 to 3, that lap out against the
channel margin. The upper dark contact follows the top of the uppermost of these beds. To the south, this section
becomes sandier and is largely replaced by conglomerate in the vicinity of the arrow (Fig. 20). The upper part of the
channel fill consists mainly of mudstone and thinly interbedded sandstone and mudstone. Scale bar at lower right is
ca 3 m in height.

succeeding conglomeratic unit, flows moving


through the Silla Syncline area were apparently
largely unconfined low-density turbidity currents that deposited a blanket of mud and sand
on the underlying coarser units. Only 30 to
40 m to the south of section 5 (Fig. 14), this
thin-bedded sequence is cut out by an erosional
channel filled by thick-bedded conglomerate
and sandstone. This channel, which is largely
obscured by scree, is the lowest identified
channel in the Paine C division. The overlying
19 m (13 to 32 m in Fig. 14, column 5) shows
the proportion of conglomerate increasing more
gradually to the south and lensing out through
facies changes and smaller erosional scours to
the north. In this section Paine C is only 30 to
45 m thick.
A second major erosional surface, figured and
discussed by Beaubouef (2004); his figs 5d and
7d,e) and here termed surface 2, is well-exposed
on and near the south-western shore of Laguna
Melizza (Figs 5, 15 and 16). It strikes S53E and
dips 14 to the south and cuts across at least 35 m
of underlying mudstone. The lowest part of the
surface and the lowest 5 to 10 m of fill are not
exposed. The lowest 115 m of exposed fill

terminate to the north by lapping onto the


erosional surface (Fig. 16). The overlying 24+
metres of fill show mudstone beds that thin but
continue up onto the erosional surface as a drape
that reaches 3 m thick (Fig. 16). Interbedded
sandstone layers lap out against this drape. The
lowest 19 m of exposed fill consists of mudstone
containing three thick sandstone beds (Figs 15
and 16). These sandstone beds thicken and
increase in number to the south until the lower
25 m of the fill section consists largely of thickbedded sandstone. About 12 km south of the
surface 2 outcrop, the top half of this sandy
section is replaced abruptly by conglomerate
through a series of 1 to 3 m thick stacked,
erosional conglomerate-filled channels (Fig. 17).
The locus of conglomerate deposition and main
channel thalweg lay still further south.
A third erosional surface is exposed about
12 km south of Laguna Melizza (Figs 5, 13 and
18) immediately above where the sandstone
above surface 2 is replaced by conglomerate.
Surface 3 is eroded into the interbedded mudstone and sandstone unit that overlies the sandstone and conglomerate above surface 2, strikes to
the south-east and dips south-west, cuts down

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Fig. 16. Sketch of the stratigraphic relationships associated with surface 2 where it is exposed near Laguna Melizzas
(Fig. 18). The mud drape on surface 2 thins down the surface and is absent in the lowest exposed 10 to 12 m. The
lower 10 m of section consists of interbedded mudstone and sandstone containing three prominent, thicker sandstone beds as shown. When traced to the south, this section passes into thick-bedded sandstone that is abruptly
replaced by conglomerate 05 to 06 km south of the area shown in this sketch (Fig. 20). Near the top of the sketch,
schematic relationships are shown suggesting (1) the location of the sediment surface at the initiation of erosion of
surface 2, (a) mudstone that accumulated outside the channel defined by surface 2 during its cutting and filling, and
(2) the erosional surface at the time the time that the mud drape covered the upper part of surface 2.

Fig. 17. Details of the internal erosion and the resultant facies change from thick-bedded sandstone (left) to conglomerate (right) near the northern edge of the Paine C channel complex (Fig. 16, section 9) about 12 km south of the
park highway. The thick sandstone beds in this figure are the lateral equivalents of the interbedded sandstone and
mudstone sequence above surface 2 in Figs 18 and 19 located about 05 to 06 km to the north. Individual sandstone
beds are successively cut out and the scours filled by conglomerate. Surface 3 curves downward and appears to
become conformable along the top of the conglomerate. The fill above surface 3 is here a 20+ m section of thickbedded sandstone and mudstone.

section to the south, and appears more-or-less


conformable against the top of the conglomeratic
fill above surface 2 (Fig. 18). This surface is, in
turn, overlain by 15 to 25 m of IIIss that lap out to
the north against surface 3 (Fig. 13). Once again,

some mudstone layers continue up onto the


surface as drapes (Fig. 18). To the south, this
thick-bedded sandstone is poorly exposed but
over a distance of 500 m to 1 km it, too, passes
into a mainly conglomeratic section (Fig. 13).

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c
b
a

Fig. 18. Close-up view of surface 3 (marked by black line). This surface cuts into a section here composed of
interbedded mudstone and sandstone (a). The surface itself is covered by a thin drape (b) of mudstone and thin
sandstone layers that pass conformably into the section above surface 3 when traced to the right. Thick sandstone
beds making up the bulk of the channel fill above surface 3 wedge out against the surface drape (c). Ruler is 15 inches
in length.

A series of higher erosional surfaces crop out


about 800 to 900 m south of surface 3 (Figs 5 and
13). The area is vegetated and the surfaces can be
traced for only short distances but collectively cut
through over 40 m of section; they cut out a
section composed almost wholly of mudstone
and thin interbedded sandstone. The fill is
mainly thick-bedded sandstone and, in the lower
part, conglomerate, containing some thin muddy
units.
These and perhaps higher surfaces that cannot
be individually resolved can be traced south-east
across Lago Sarmiento Chico and the axis of the
Silla Syncline as the northern margin of the
Paine C channel. The pinch out of thick-bedded
sandstones at the top of Paine C against this or
related surfaces at Lago Pincol (Fig. 5) has been
described and illustrated by Beaubouef (2004);
his fig. 11a). Beaubouef (2004) has applied the
name Lago Jigsaw to Lago Pincol. The upper 50 to
100 m of the Paine C section south of the outcrop
of surfaces 4, 5 and 6 consists mainly of thickbedded sandstone (Fig. 5).

Southern channel margin


For about 4 km south from the park highway
along the west limb of the Silla Syncline to the

thickest section of the Paine C conglomerate,


Paine C conglomerates rest directly on the Laguna
Negra debris flow deposit (Fig. 5). Further south,
the base of the Paine C climbs gradually
up-section and a unit of mudstone and sandstone
appears between the Laguna Negra debris flow
deposit and the Paine C conglomerate (Fig. 8).
About 1 km south of the thickest section, marking the inferred channel axis (Fig. 4, section 12),
and 5 km south of the park highway, the basal
contact of the Paine C cuts steeply up-section
and the lower 70 m of conglomerate terminate
against a surface cut into mudstone and sandstone above the Laguna Negra debris flow
deposit (Fig. 19). This erosional surface trends
S35E, dips ca 15 to the north-east, and represents the south-western margin of the major
channel within which the conglomerate and
sandstone of the Paine C were transported and
deposited. This erosional surface flattens a bit
further south and can be traced around the south
end of the Silla Syncline. On the southernmost
part of the east limb, the Paine C conglomerate
again thickens to the north into the channel in
the vicinity of Brown Lake (Figs 5 and 9). These
relationships indicate that the coarse Paine C
fourth-order element represents a channel complex characterized by stacked but laterally offset

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Fig. 19. Southern margin of the Paine C channel complex (white line). About 70 to 80 m of conglomeratic channel
fill (left) laps onto and ends against the steeply erosional channel margin (white line). This erosional surface cuts into
a thick sequence of mudstone and interbedded sandstone and mudstone (right). View towards the south-east. White
bar at lower left is 5 m.

channel margins and channel margin deposits


along its northern side and by a single steeply
dipping erosional surface cut into the underlying
mudstones on the south.

Palaeocurrents in Paine C
Palaeocurrent data in Paine C derive from flute
casts, groove casts, ripple cross lamination and
clast imbrication in conglomerates. Finer-grained
units show common ripple lamination. Composite palaeocurrent measurements from sandstones
and conglomerates in the Paine C channel fill
indicate an average palaeoflow direction of
S29E (Fig. 8). This trend is consistent with the
orientation of the thickest conglomerate sections
across the syncline. Although it is not clear how
wide any single channel within the channel
complex was, the overall conglomeratic fill of
Paine C occupies a belt that is 25 to 35 km wide
perpendicular to the palaeoflow direction.
Whereas the coarser-grained deposits within the
Paine C channel were deposited by currents
flowing almost exclusively to the south-east, the
fine-grained laterally correlative deposits immediately north of individual erosional surfaces on
the northern part of the west limb of the Silla
Syncline were deposited by currents that were
flowing either directly south, towards the channel, or south-east, paralleling currents within the
channel (Figs 8 and 13).

DISCUSSION

Implications of the Paine C complex


for channel-levee models
The juxtaposition of fine-grained, thin bedded
mudstone and sandstone lithofacies with thick
conglomeratic units led Winn & Dott (1979) to
propose a channel-levee facies model for the
Cerro Toro Formation, based on the submarine
fan models of Normark (1970) and the fan facies
models of Mutti & Ricci-Lucchi (1972). This
model implies that fine and coarse units are
laterally correlative and that there is a genetic
relationship between channel deposits (conglomerates) and levee deposits (mudstones) (Fig. 20A).
DeVries & Lindholm (1994) and Beaubouef (2004)
provided additional details in support of the
channel-levee model. In contrast, Coleman (2000)
argued that the fine-grained turbiditic sandstones
and mudstones represent a constructional phase
unrelated to subsequent channel incision and
backfilling (Fig. 20B) and do not represent levees
because they were not genetically related to the
flows that eroded the channels or deposited the
coarse channel fill.
The results of the present study, including
gross sedimentation patterns, palaeocurrent data
and the complex architecture of the northern
margin of the Paine C channel, do not support
either the simple channel-levee model or a

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Fig. 20. The main channel models proposed for the coarse-grained facies of the Cerro Toro Formation. (A) Channellevee model of Winn & Dott (1979); DeVries & Lindholm (1994) and Beaubouef (2004). (B) Single, deeply incised
channel model of Coleman (2000). (C) Stacked and laterally offset channel model of this study.

simple cut and fill model but rather suggest a


more complicated architecture and evolution
(Fig. 20C). North of the park highway, the
interval between the Laguna Negra debris flow
deposit and the Nordenskjold member of the
Cerro Toro Formation includes over 260 m
composed almost exclusively of mudstone
(Fig. 13). To the south, this section thins and
is largely replaced by coarse sediments of the
Paine C member, which total 150 to 200 m
thick. Pre-compaction thicknesses in northern
and southern sections must have been even
more disparate and make it very difficult to
argue that the northern mud section represents
fine levee or overbank sediments derived from
the Paine C channel. Rather, there appears to
have been a separate source of mud to the north
of the Paine C channel; this is consistent with
sedimentation patterns in the underlying Paine
A and B members, which were deposited by
flows moving generally to the south in the
northern part of the syncline and implying
the existence of a south to south-eastern slope

in the area of the Silla Syncline during Paine


sedimentation.
Available palaeocurrent data from the northern
margin of the Paine C channel, although sparse,
support this interpretation. Because levees are
constructed where flows locally top the bounding
channel banks, palaeocurrents in levee deposits
show a range of directions with an average that is
commonly directed away from the channel (cf.
Hickson & Lowe, 2002). Palaeocurrents from finegrained deposits along the northern margin of the
Paine C channel indicate deposition from flows
moving either southwards towards the channel
axis or to the south-east parallel to or within the
channel (Fig. 8); features inconsistent with levees
constructed by flows locally escaping channel
confinement.
The present results suggest two possible interpretations of relationships between the coarse
conglomeratic channel fill of Paine C and the
associated mud-rich out-of-channel deposits. (1)
The deposits represent separate, unrelated flows.
The Paine C channel complex may have been

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deposited by large, coarse-grained flows originating along the margins of the basin and moving out
into and down the axis of the basin within large
erosive submarine channels while finer-grained,
unrelated flows moved axially down the regional
northsouth basin palaeoslope and mantled both
the channel and surrounding out-of-channel
areas with thin-bedded mudstone and fine sandy
turbidites. These thin-bedded units were removed by erosion within the channels. Both
currents could have been active at the same time,
or the mud-rich axial flows could have formed a
more-or-less continuous background in contrast
to the episodic influxes of coarse debris. (2)
Alternatively, both channel-fill and out-of-channel lithofacies were deposited by parts of the
same flows. These flows would have originated as
thick, highly-stratified, gravelly, high-density turbidity currents. As these flows left the confines of
submarine canyons or gullies that served as
conduits across the bounding slopes and entered
the Paine C channel system, the upper, lowdensity portions of the flows may have extended
above the channel banks, become decoupled or
stripped from the denser lower parts of the flows,
and moved directly down the regional slope
without following the channels (Piper & Normark,
1983; Peakall et al., 2000). The lower, high-density, gravel-bearing parts of these same flows,
however, would have been confined to channels,
following a slightly more sinuous course. In the
area of the Silla Syncline, these decoupled lowdensity and high-density parts of the same flows
would have passed and deposited two separate
lithofacies: conglomerate and minor sandstone
within the channels and interbedded sandstone
mudstone and mudstone outside the channels.
Locally, the low-density flows would move
parallel to, towards or away from the channel,
depending on the orientation of the channel
with respect to the palaeoslope. Although they
originated from the same parental flows upslope,
these decoupled low-density and high-density
flows would have behaved as separate flows
during passage through lower parts of the
system, including those represented by outcrops
in the Silla Syncline. Decoupling upper, lowdensity and lower, high-density parts of thick
stratified flows might also have triggered coarsesediment deposition within the channels as a
result of a decrease in overall flow thickness and
turbulence (Peakall et al., 2000). In this case,
fine sedimentation outside and coarse sedimentation within the channels would have been
concurrent.

Although available evidence does not unambiguously favour either alternative, the relationships of fine and coarse-grained lithofacies across
the channel-margin surfaces along the northern
margin of the Paine C complex suggest that the
bulk of the fine-grained sections at the top of each
channel cycle were deposited after coarse sedimentation of the underlying coarse debris and
before incision and initiation of coarse sedimentation of the succeeding cycle. This evidence
implies that most of the thick interbedded sandstone and mudstone and mudstone sections were
deposited by flows moving down the southerly
slope between major episodes of conglomerate
sedimentation within the channels and not by
low-density flows representing the decoupled
tops of the flows depositing the conglomerate.

Comparison with other deep-water channel


systems
Stacked, offset channels like those in the Paine C
division are widely developed in deep-water
channel complexes (Walker, 1975; Clark & Pickering, 1996a; Kolla et al., 2001; Deptuck et al.,
2003; Samuel et al., 2003). Most of these channels
have been interpreted to form through progressive
migration of sinuous levee-bounded channels.
However, there has been considerable debate as to
whether channel migration or shifting is continuous (e.g. Kolla et al., 2001) or whether each
stacked channel represents a discrete cycle of
cutting, filling and abandonment (e.g. Campion
et al., 2000; Gardner & Borer, 2000; Samuel et al.,
2003). Channel fill in the A, B and C divisions of
the Paine member of the Cerro Toro Formation in
the Silla Syncline shows a rather tight clustering
of palaeoflow directions, with all but a few lying
between 180 (south) and 90 (east). Most readings show an even narrower range between 175
and 150. These results suggest that the Paine
complex channels were not highly sinuous and
were deposited by flows moving more-or-less
directly down a steep, southerly or south-easterly
palaeoslope.
It seems likely, therefore, that offset stacking of
channels within the Paine C complex reflects the
local migration of successive channels down the
regional palaeoslope, rather than the systematic
migration of a highly sinuous channel system.
Mudstone units flanking the Paine C channel to
the north, while probably including some mud
layers derived locally from flows within the
channel, are dominated by mudstones deposited
by flows moving southward over this slope within

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1003

Fig. 21. Genetic packages of sediments along the northern margin of the Paine C channel complex, west limb of the
Silla Syncline. Unit 1 was deposited above the Laguna Negra debris flow deposit before a single large channel was
established. Conglomerate and sandstone units 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 represent coarse, largely channel-fill deposits. Finegrained mudstone equivalents of these units (dark grey units 4, 6, 8) may exist outside the incised channels but
largely lack sandy beds. These coarse channel-fill units grade upwards into finer-grained interbedded mudstone and
sandstone units (3, 5, 7 and 9) that are present both within and outside the channels; they were deposited by flows
moving from north to south, down the regional palaeoslope, and late-stage currents within the channels.

and towards the channel. Stratigraphic relationships along the channel margins suggest that
individual sandstone and conglomerate bodies
within the channel do not represent time equivalent facies of the thick, fine-grained laterally
adjacent mudstone deposits.
Figures 21 and 22 present a simplified model
for the evolution of the Paine C complex in the
Silla Syncline. This evolution started with the
Laguna Negra debris flow, which buried the Paine
B channel and initialized the surface for subsequent Paine C sedimentation. Initial Paine C
sedimentation, represented by units 1 and 2 in
Fig. 21, involved the spread of large slurry flows
and poorly channelized turbidity currents over
the surface of the Laguna Negra debris flow
deposit. Subsequent Paine C sedimentation occurred through a series of cycles (Fig. 21), each of

which included: (i) an initial stage of channel


erosion; (ii) a stage of coarse-sediment deposition
within the resulting channel, including coarse
conglomerate deposition along the channel thalweg grading into sand to sand-and-mud deposition towards the northern channel margin
(Fig. 21, units 4, 6, 8 and 10); and (iii) a late stage
of fine-grained, thin-bedded sand and mud sedimentation that was deposited by both flows
moving down the channel and flows moving into
the channel from the north (Fig. 21, units 3, 5, 7
and 9).
Although no unambiguous levee deposits have
been identified, it seems likely that, at least at the
beginning of each cycle, during the initial stage of
channel erosion, flows would have spread widely
over the mud surface beyond the confines of the
buried channel. What may be the out-of-channel

2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

1004

W. H. Crane and D. R. Lowe

I
Fig. 22. Schematic models showing cyclic development of the Paine C channel complex. (A) Deposition of Laguna
Negra debris flow deposit (LN) and overlying units. (B) Incision of the initial Paine C channel (surface 1 and 2). (C)
Filling of channel 2 by sand (north) and gravel (south). (D) Gravel and sand sedimentation is followed by finingupward sequence culminating in thick interbedded sandstone and mudstone and mudstone unit deposited within
and outside the channel. This fine-grained unit was deposited both by currents moving within the channel and by
regional flows moving from north to south. (EG) Second cycle of channel erosion and filling. (H, I) Third cycle, with
channel shifted to south, down regional palaeoslope.

2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

Architecture and evolution of the Paine channel complex


deposits associated with the cutting of surface 2
crop out immediately south of the park highway
30 m above the top of the Paine C member within
a thick sequence of mudstone. These deposits
consist of a series of climbing dune-like bed forms
composed of interlayered mudstone and sandstone (Fig. 23). Palaeocurrents interpreted from
the dip of the cross-sets were directed generally
72 (north) to 84 (east), a divergence of about 73
from palaeocurrents in the Paine C channel,
which were directed towards 151 (Fig. 8). These
are the only palaeocurrents observed in this study
that were directed away from the Paine C channel. This sequence of bedforms is about 3 to 5 m
thick and succeeded by a thick section of almost
sand-free mudstone, which was probably deposited following incision when coarse sediment
deposition was fully confined to the channel
defined by surface 2.
At least six (and probably more) such cut, fill
and abandonment cycles characterized the development of the Paine C channel complex. Along
the channel thalweg, and around most of the Silla
Syncline, this large-scale cyclicity in-channel
development either did not occur because coarse
sediment transport was more continuous, especially in the deepest part of the channel, or was
lost because of complete or nearly complete
erosion of intervening fine-grained units deposited between periods of gravel sedimentation. The
southern margin of the Paine C channel is
preserved as a steep but stepped cut (Fig. 8). It
seems likely that the accumulation of fine-grained
mud and sand along the northern channel margin, deposited when flows moving to the south
encountered the Paine C channel, resulted in
aggradation of each channel margin and forced

1005

the channel thalweg to migrate successively to the


south. Fine-grained deposits south of and below
the incised southern margin of the Paine C
channel are so poorly exposed that it was not
possible to analyse palaeocurrents.

Evolution of the Paine channel system


and tectonic implications
The sedimentology and architecture of the Paine
member indicate that it evolved as multistorey
complex of stacked channels. Coarse-grained
sedimentation was initiated with the erosion of
the Paine A channel. This channel appears to
have followed a north-to-south course from the
region of Lago Nordenskjold south to Laguna
Lakal and Brown Lake (Fig. 11A), swinging
slightly to the east near the southern end of the
syncline. The Paine B channel probably followed
a course slightly west of the Paine A channel,
more or less along the axis of the present syncline
(Fig. 11C). The conglomerate element at the base
of the Paine B onlaps and thins against the
underlying Paine A deposits near Laguna Lakal
(Fig. 5), suggesting that it may represent a compensational phase of sedimentation. The Laguna
Negra debris flow deposit is continuous along the
west limb of the syncline and averages about
30 m thick, but thickens abruptly over the conglomeratic portion of the Paine B channel, indicating that it mantled pre-existing topography
and filled the remaining part of the Paine B
channel.
The Paine C channel complex consists of a
series of stacked, offset channels that collectively
were filled by 150 to 200 m of coarse sediments,
mainly conglomerate. The overall palaeocurrent

Fig. 23. A series of large, climbing sediment waves composed of interbedded mudstone and sandstone occurs about
30 m stratigraphically above the top of the Paine C member, west limb of the Silla Syncline, immediately south of the
park highway. These waves are the only structures known to show an easterly or north-easterly flow direction; their
stratigraphic position corresponds approximately to the sea floor during the incision that formed surface 2. These
sediment waves may represent flows that spread out, essentially unconfined, over the sea floor before and during the
earliest stages of erosion of surface 2.
2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

1006

W. H. Crane and D. R. Lowe

directions in the Paine A, B and C in outcrops


south of the park highway are similar, averaging
145 (south) to 156 (east).
Models for the evolution of the Magallanes
Basin suggest that the Cerro Toro Formation was
deposited in an actively deforming foreland basin
immediately east of the Andean orogenic belt
(Wilson, 1983, 1991; Fildani et al., 2003). The
abundance of conglomerate in the Silla Syncline
composed largely of clasts of older, deeper-level
stratigraphic units reflects this uplift. The largescale cyclicity in coarse-sediment deposition,
represented by the Pehoe, Paine and Nordenskjold members of the Cerro Toro Formation may,
in part, reflect pulses of Andean tectonic activity.
Although the primary source for sediment was
to the west in the Andean orogenic belt, the
predominance of south to south-east-directed

palaeocurrents (Figs 8 and 9) suggests that the


flows depositing the Cerro Toro Formation were
redirected down the northsouth trending axis of
the basin as suggested by Winn & Dott (1979). The
nature of the local basin represented by sediments
in the Silla Syncline is not fully resolved, in large
part because age dating and correlation within the
Cerro Toro outcrop belt is poor. The Silla Syncline area may have marked the axis of the
Magallanes Basin during deposition of the Silla
Syncline sediments (Fig. 24A) and the main belt
of coarse conglomeratic sediments (Fig. 1) may
mark a later eastward migration of the basin axis,
reflecting eastward propagation of the orogenic
front. However, it is also possible that local
structural features on the sea floor isolated the
Paine channels from the concurrently active main
basin axis to the east (Fig. 24B) which, today, is

Fig. 24. Schematic models of the


depositional setting of the Paine
member, Cerro Toro Formation,
Silla Syncline. (A) The localization
of the generally northsouth
trending coarse-grained Paine
channel complex in the Silla
Syncline may indicate that this area
was located along the main axis of
the Magallanes Basin during
sedimentation. (B) However, the
Silla Syncline may have developed
as a slope or piggyback basin behind
a topographically higher zone of sea
floor faulting and folding to the east.
The main axis of the basin lay still
further to the east.

2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

Architecture and evolution of the Paine channel complex


marked by outcrops of conglomerate extending
from at least Lago Azul in the north to Lago Sofia
in the south (Fig. 1).
Coleman (2000) suggested that the abundance
of coarse-grained sediments in the Silla Syncline
section implies deposition along the palaeo-axis
of an incipient Silla Syncline. The presence of a
major zone of faulting, folding and deformation in
Cerro Toro mudstones east of the Silla Syncline
(Fig. 5) suggests that the syncline may rather
represent a small Cretaceous intraslope minibasin bounded to the east by a sea floor structural
high and to the west by the slope off the Andean
front. The Silla Syncline itself may represent
either a piggyback mini-basin or ponding of
sediments behind thrust related sea floor structures associated with eastward propagation of the
Andean fold-thrust belt. The convergence of
several of the Paine channels at the south-eastern
corner of the syncline (Fig. 11) and the easterly
swing of the Paine A and B palaeocurrents in this
area suggest that this site may mark a long-lived
route around or through the bounding fold front,
allowing the flows access to the deeper axial
portions of the basin to the east.

CONCLUSIONS
The Pehoe, Paine and Nordenskjold members of
the Upper Cretaceous Cerro Toro Formation in
the Silla Syncline, Parque Nacional Torres del
Paine, Chile, represent three discrete wellexposed, deep-water channel complexes within
an overall fine-grained mud-dominated depositional system. The Paine channel complex, the
focus of this study, evolved through at least four
stages represented by four large-scale, fourthorder architectural divisions. The Paine A conglomerate was deposited in a channel that
traversed the area of the present Silla Syncline
from north to south. The overlying Paine A sand
was deposited within a channel that followed a
similar course but shifted slightly to the east. The
Paine B channel also ran more or less along the
axis of the Silla Syncline. Paine B turbidity
current activity was terminated and the channel
and surrounding areas were buried by the Laguna
Negra debris flow.
The Paine C member represents the last,
largest and most complex channel system in
the Paine member. The channel belt was at least
35 km wide and extended from north-west to
south-east across the present syncline. The collective fill, composed mainly of conglomerate

1007

and coarse sandstone, reaches at least 150 to


200 m thick. This channel complex shows a
single deep incision along its southern margin
and a complex stack of offset smaller channels
along its northern margin. Southward shifts in
the northern channel margin and the axis of
deposition of the Paine channel were potentially
driven by the southward progradation of a major
south-sloping mud slope. Low-density muddy
turbidity currents moving to the south over this
slope encountered, and partially filled, the
northern part of the Paine channel between
intervals of coarse sediment transport within
the channel. Whilst there is clear evidence that
the Paine channel was asymmetric in crosssection, with the thalweg located close to the
southern margin, and, as a result, individual
beds within the channel fine towards the northern channel margin, there is no unambiguous
evidence that the bulk of the thick mudstone and
thin-bedded sandstone units along the northern
channel margin represent constructional levees.
The northsouth trending Cerro Toro channel
belt in the Silla Syncline may mark an early axis
of the Magallanes foreland basin, but was more
probably confined between a western slope off the
Andean front and a structural intra-basinal high
situated along the eastern edge of the present Silla
Syncline. The syncline itself may have developed
as a syndepositional structure, perhaps a piggyback basin or toe-thrust-controlled slope minibasin. The convergence of the various Paine
member channels at the south-eastern edge of
the Silla Syncline suggests that this point marked
a major conduit across the eastern structural
barrier through which flows passed to more
eastern, axial parts of the Magallanes Basin.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors would like to express their gratitude
to the affiliate members of SPODDS, the Stanford
Project On Deep-water Depositional Systems,
who supported this research over the past seven
years: Amerada Hess, Anadarko, Black Coral LLP,
British Petroleum, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ENIAGIP, ExxonMobil, Husky, Marathon, Nexen
Petroleum, Occidental, Petrobras, Rohol-Aufsuchungs A. G., Shell and Unocal. Special thanks
are due to BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron Petroleum
Technology Company and Perez Companc for
supporting a focused two-week study of these
rocks by about 15 graduate and undergraduate
students in 2002. We are grateful to CONAF and

2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009

1008

W. H. Crane and D. R. Lowe

Sr Marco Cordero Valenzuela, Director CONAF


XII Region, for allowing us to work in the Parque
Nacional Torres del Paine, within which the Silla
Syncline is located. We would also like to thank
P. Haughton, R. Slatt and D. Pyles for their
thoughtful and constructive reviews of an earlier
draft of this paper.

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Manuscript received 27 February 2006; revision


accepted 18 October 2007

2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 55, 9791009