Seismic stratigraphy of the northern KwaZulu-Natal upper continental margin.
This study presents the interpretation of Edo-Western and Sparker seismic geophysical data acquired on the northern KwaZulu-Natal upper continental margin by various organisations since 1981. Five seismic sequences are recognised and these are traceable across the entire length of the study area. The oldest is interpreted as a late Cretaceous marine sequence (Sequence A), probably the offshore equivalent of the St. Lucia Formation exposed onshore. This sequence is overlain by a progradational, probable late Tertiary shelf sequence (Sequence B) onlapping in places against the underlying marine sequence. The outer portion of this sequence on the upper continental slope is characterised by complicated reflection termination patterns indicating the possible presence of discreet sequences within this shelf and slope unit. These shelf and slope sediments are overlain by a thin (less than 20m) reworked and eroded Pleistocene shelf unit (Sequence C), itself overlain by linear Pleistocene aeolianites (Sequence D) in places. The youngest sequence observed is the Holocene unconsolidated sediment wedge (Sequence E) on the inner shelf, attaining thicknesses of greater than 20m in places. The various sequences were mapped out and sediment isopach maps were produced (wherever possible) as well as an overall geological subcrop map of the study area. 150 kilometres of shallow penetration Edo Western seismic records acquired off the Sodwana Bay continental shelf were interpreted. Two sediment types are recognised, namely consolidated beach rock/aeolianite and unconsolidated Quaternary shelf sand/bioclastic reef derived sediment. In places, accumulations of bioclastic sediment in subaqueous dune troughs which have been subsequently buried by migrating bedforms manifest themselves on seismic records as dark semi-continuous reflectors beneath the migrating bedform. Close inshore, seismic records show prominent reflectors interpreted as consolidated sediment beneath varying thicknesses of unconsolidated sediment. Close to the shelf break (occurring at approximately -60m), seismic interpretation indicates that thin beach rock developments perch directly upon unconsolidated shelf sand, with the beach rock having been eroded through in places to expose unconsolidated sediment beneath. A sediment thickness map for this area was compiled from the seismic data. The limited penetration of the Pinger system necessitated "greater-than" values being used in many areas. Greatest sediment thicknesses occur in subaqueous dune fields where unconsolidated sediment thickness is at least 11 m. In inshore areas absent of subaqueous dune fields, sediment thicknesses are typically low, varying between 1 and 3m. A prominent submerged dune ridge close inshore limits substantial unconsolidated sediment build-up to landward of this feature. On the seaward side substantial build-up is limited by the action of the Agulhas Current which is actively transporting sediment into the head of submarine canyons which incise the continental shelf at Sodwana Bay. This study shows that on the northern KwaZulu-Natal continental shelf where there is a dearth of unconsolidated Quaternary sediment, the Edo Western seismic system is a useful tool for discerning thin veneers of unconsolidated sediment less than 4m thick. When considering the overall low volumes of unconsolidated sediment present on the shelf, this hitherto unconsidered volume of sediment constitutes an important part of the shelf sediment budget. Submarine landslide features observed on sparker seismic records are described and discussed. Submarine landslides are present which affect a) Sequences A and B, b) Sequence B only and c) Sequence A only, ages of these sediment failures can thus be inferred as being either post- Late Cretaceous or post- Late Tertiary. Offshore Kosi Bay, submarine landslide features affecting Sequence A are buried by unaffected Sequence B sediments, indicating a post- Late Cretaceous to pre- Late Tertiary age of occurrence. Style of failure tends towards mass flow in those submarine landslides in which Sequence B only sediments are affected, while those in which Sequence A is affected exhibit some slide features indicating a greater degree of internal coherency of these sediments compared to Sequence B. Slope stability analysis of a submarine landslide feature offshore St. Lucia Estuary Mouth indicates the failed sediment mass would have been stable under static conditions and that external dynamic forces such as storm waves or seismic activity would have been necessary to induce failure. It is demonstrated that the Zululand earthquake of 1932 would have exceeded the intensity necessary to induce sediment failure and this event should therefore be considered as a possible cause. Seismic evidence of fluvial incision/subaerial exposure at the boundaries between Sequences A and B and C and E are further evidence of lowered sea-levels probably during the Oligocene and Late Pleistocene. The position of the incision into Sequence C relative the present course of the Mkuze River indicates the possibility that this incision could represent the palaeo-outlet of this river. Seismic expression of 3 submarine canyons in the study area indicate that they are currently undergoing active headward erosion, independent of any direct modern fluvial influence. In the case of Ntabende Canyon, a nearby continental shelf incision postulated to be the palaeo-Mkuze outlet indicates that provision of terrigenous material to this portion of the continental shelf could well have accelerated mass wasting processes within the canyon itself. This submarine canyon could therefore have progressed more rapidly to a relatively mature phase of development. Subsurface structure indicates the lack of any post- Late Tertiary fault features beneath the canyons, thus excluding faults active in post- Late Tertiary times as a developmental factor. It is shown that the overall, external morphology of the KwaZulu-Natal upper continental margin is strongly influenced by seismic stratigraphic relationships, with the main influencing factors being outcrop position of the various sequences and depositional angle of sediments of which a sequence is comprised. External morphology has also been greatly modified in places by mass-wasting processes. It is demonstrated also that relating the observed seismic stratigraphy to onshore geological cross sections is problematic due to the distances involved and lack of confident offshore dates for the seismic sequences observed. Seismic relationships observed contribute to an understanding of relative sea-level movements since the Late Cretaceous and the overall geological evolution of the northern KwaZulu-Natal upper continental margin, details of which are discussed.