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Gravity Flows and their deposits


Professor Carlos Zavala


Theoretical Classes, discussion forums and evaluation. The attendees will have a maximum of six months to complete the course


For graduate students


300 USD + tax (Single attendant). Please ask for corporative prices

Gravity flows and their deposits. Applied to reservoir understanding



1.  Introduction. Gravity flows in nature.  Elastic, plastic and fluid materials. Plastic (Bingham) and Newtonian flows. The internal friction coefficient. The flow viscosity. Dilatant and pseudoplastic flows. Laminar and turbulent flows. Subcritical and supercritical flows. Flow transformations and hydraulic jumps. Application to facies analysis. Newtonian flows. Fluid gravity flows (FGF) and sediment gravity flows (SGF). Field examples and illustrative videos (showing the relationship between sedimentary processes and ancient deposits).

2.  Fluid gravity flows. Stability diagrams in stream flows. Initiation of movement of clastic particles in unidirectional dilute flows. Decelerating and accelerating flows. Unidirectional and bidirectional (oscillatory) flows. Combined flows. Main sedimentary structures related to fluid gravity flows. Diagnostic identification criteria in ancient deposits. Field examples and illustrative videos (showing the relationship between sedimentary processes and ancient deposits).

3.  Sediment gravity flows. Experimental analysis. Bedload and suspended load. Flow capacity and flow competence. Flow fluctuations. Sedimentary structures related to sediment gravity flows. Criteria for the recognition of variations in the depositional rate. Examples of facies analysis in fossil deposits.

4.  High-density gravity flows. Sediment support mechanisms. Matrix cohesion. Dispersive pressure. Water escape. Turbulence. Cohesive flows. Hyperconcentrated flows. Concentrated flows. Granular flows. Fluidized flows. High-density turbidity flows. Traction carpets.

5.  Mud flows. The paradigm of decantation. Evidence of mud flows from fossil deposits. Different types of mud flows (intrabasinal and extrabasinal flows). Examples of recent systems and the stratigraphic record. Recognition of fluctuations in velocity and concentration in mud flows.

6.  Deltas and related flow types. The Bates’s classification. Littoral deltas. Ramp deltas. Gilbert-type deltas. Subaqueous deltas. Parts of the delta. Facies analysis. Allocycles and autocycles in deltaic sedimentation.

7.  Hyperpycnal flows. Hypopycnal and homopycnal flows. Overflows, interflows and underflows. Hyperpycnal flows in lakes and marine environments. Evolution of hyperpycnal flows. Flow density reversal. Lofting plumes. Hyperpycnal flows and physiography. Episodic and sustained flows. Hyperpycnal flows and petrographic and paleontological content. Diagnostic facies. Intrabasinal and extrabasinal flows. Differentiation criteria.

8.  Intrabasinal turbidites. The Bouma, Lowe, Walker and Mutti facies schema. Flow efficiency. Rheologic changes, flow transformations and hydraulic jumps. Consequences on the resulting facies types. Channel and lobe systems. Criteria of differentiation between intrabasinal and extrabasinal turbidites.

9.  Extrabasinal turbidites. Criteria for recognition and analysis. Lacustrine and marine turbidites. Shelfal turbidites. Shelfal sandstone lobes. Basin topography and thickness of sandstone lobes. Slope turbidites. Examples of accumulation. Origin of transient fans. Inner basin turbidites. Examples of typical facies and facies associations.


Exercises and practical activities: The understanding different topics will be complemented with practical exercises oriented to apply facies analysis to reservoir understanding.


Teaching logistics: The attendees can follow the classes during their free time, and then participate twice a week in an online forum with the professor. The forum is intended to provide excellent complementary explanations, discussions, online drawings, and perspectives for reservoir understanding.



Selected papers


Abouelresh, M.O., and R.M. Slatt. 2011. Shale depositional processes: Example from the Paleozoic Barnett Shale, Fort Worth Basin, Texas, USA. Open Geosciences 3: 398–409. doi: 10.2478/s13533-011-0037-z.

Arnott, R.W.C., and B.M. Hand. 1989. Bedforms, primary structures and grain fabric in the presence of suspended sediment rain. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology 59 (6): 1062–1069.

Bagnold, R.A. 1954. Experiments on a gravity-free dispersion of large solid spheres in a Newtonian fluid under shear. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A225: 49–63.

Bagnold, R. A. 1962. Auto-suspension of transported sediment: turbidity currents. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A265: 315–319. 

Baker, M., J.H. Baas, J. Malarkey, R. Silva Jacinto, M. Craig, I. Kane, and S. Barker. 2017. The effect of clay type on the properties of cohesive sediment gravity flows and their deposits. Journal of Sedimentary Research 87: 1176–1195.

Banerjee, I. 1977. Experimental study on the effect of deceleration on the vertical sequence of sedimentary structures in silty sediments. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology 47 (2): 771–783.

Batalla, R.J., C. De Jong, P. Ergenzinger and M. Sala. 1999. Field observations on hyperconcentrated flows in mountain torrents. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 24: 247–253.

Bates, C., 1953. Rational theory of delta formation. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin 37: 2119–2162.

Baudin, F., E. Stetten, J. Schnyder, K. Charlier, P. Martinez, B. Dennielou, and L. Droz. 2017a. Origin and distribution of the organic matter in the distal lobe of the Congo deep-sea fan — A Rock-Eval survey. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 142: 75–90. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2017.01.008.

Baudin, F., P. Martinez, B. Dennielou, K. Charlier, T. Marsset, L. Droz, and C. Rabouille. 2017b. Organic carbon accumulation in modern sediments of the Angola basin influenced by the Congo deep-sea fan. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 142: 64–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2017.01.009.

Beverage, J.P., and J.K. Culbertson. 1964. Hyperconcentrations of suspended sediments. Journal of the Hydraulics Division, ASCE 90: 117–128.

Bhattacharya, J.P., and J.A. McEachern 2009. Hyperpycnal rivers and prodeltaic shelves in the Cretaceous seaway of North America. Journal of Sedimentary Research 79: 184–209. https://doi.org/10.2110/jsr.2009.026.

Biscara, L., T. Mulder, P. Martinez, F. Baudin, H. Etcheber, J.M. Jouanneau, and T. Garlan. 2011. Transport of terrestrial organic matter in the Ogooué deep sea turbidite system (Gabon). Marine and Petroleum Geology 28 (5): 1061–1072.

Bouma, A.H. 1962. Sedimentology of some flysch deposits, a graphic approach to facies interpretation. Elsevier, 168 pp.

Costa, J.E. 1984. Physical geomorphology of debris flows. In: J.E. Costa, and P.J. Fleisher (Eds.), Developments and Applications of Geomorphology. Springer, Berlin, pp. 268–317.

Costa, J.E. 1986. Rheologic, geomorphic and sedimentological differentiation of water floods, hyperconcentrated flows and debris flows. In: V.R. Baker, C. Kochel, and P.C. Patton (Eds.), Flood Geomorphology. Wiley-Interscience, New York, pp. 113–122.

Coussot, P., and M. Meunier. 1996. Recognition, classification and mechanical description of debris flows. Earth-Science Reviews 40: 209–227.

Dasgupta, P. 2003. Sediment-gravity flow — The conceptual problems. Earth-Science Reviews 62: 265–281.

Heezen, B.C., and C.D. Hollister. 1964. Deep sea current evidence from abyssal sediments. Marine Geology 1: 141–174.

Hollister, C.D. 1967. Sediment Distribution and Deep Circulation in the Western North Atlantic (Ph.D. dissertation). Columbia University, New York, 467 pp.

Kuenen, P.H., and C.I. Migliorini. 1950. Turbidity currents as a cause of graded bedding. The Journal of Geology 58: 91–127.

Lash, G.G. 2016. Hyperpycnal transport of carbonaceous sediment — Example from the Upper Devonian Rhinestreet Shale, western New York, USA. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 459: 29–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.035.

Li, J., J. Yuan, C. Bi, and D. Luo. 1983. The main features of the mudflows in Jiang-Jia Ravine. Ztschrift für Geomorphologie 27: 325–341.

Lowe, D.R. 1982. Sediment gravity flows: II. Depositional models with special reference to the deposits of high-density turbidity currents. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology 52: 279–297.

Middleton, G.V. 1967. Experiments on density and turbidity currents: III. Deposition of sediment. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 4: 475–505.

Middleton, G.V., and M.A. Hampton. 1973. Sediment gravity flows: Mechanics of flow and deposition. In: G.V. Middleton, and A.H. Bouma (Eds.), Turbidites and Deep-Water Sedimentation. SEPM, Anaheim, California Short Course Notes, 38 pp.

Migliorini, C.I. 1944. Sul modo di formazione dei complessi tipo macigno. Bollettino della Società Geologica Italiana 62: 48–49.

Mohrig D., K.X. Whipple, M. Hondzo, C. Ellis, and G. Parker. 1998. Hydroplaning of subaqueous debris flows. GSA Bulletin 110: 387–394.

Mulder, T., and E. Chapron. 2011. Flood deposits in continental and marine environments: Character and significance. In: R.M. Slatt, and C. Zavala (Eds.), Sediment Transfer from Shelf to Deep Water — Revisiting the Delivery System. AAPG Studies in Geology 61: 1–30. doi:10.1306/13271348St613436.

Mulder, T., and J. Alexander. 2001. The physical character of subaqueous sedimentary density flows and their deposits. Sedimentology 48: 269–299.

Mulder, T., and J.P.M. Syvitski. 1995. Turbidity currents generated at river mouths during exceptional discharges to the world oceans. Journal of Geology 103: 285–299.

Mulder, T., and P. Cochonat. 1996. Classification of offshore mass movements. Journal of Sedimentary Research 66: 43–57.

Mulder, T., J.P.M. Syvitski, S. Migeon, J.C. Faugéres, and B. Savoye. 2003. Marine hyperpycnal flows: Initiation, behavior and related deposits. A review. Marine and Petroleum Geology 20: 861–882

Mutti, E. 1992. Turbidite Sandstones. AGIP—Istituto di Geologia Università di Parma, 275 pp.

Mutti, E., G. Davoli, R. Tinterri, and C. Zavala. 1996. The importance of ancient fluvio-deltaic systems dominated by catastrophic flooding in tectonically active basins. Memorie di Scienze Geologiche, Universita di Padova 48: 233–291.

Mutti, E., N. Mavilla, S. Angella, and L.L. Fava. 1999. An introduction to the analysis of ancient turbidite basins from an outcrop perspective. AAPG Continuing Education Course Note 39: 1–98.

Mutti, E., R. Tinterri, G. Benevelli, D. Di Biase, and G. Cavanna. 2003. Deltaic, mixed and turbidite sedimentation of ancient foreland basins. Marine and Petroleum Geology 20: 733–755.

Nakajima, T. 2006. Hyperpycnites deposited 700 km away from river mouths in the Central Japan Sea. Journal of Sedimentary Research 76 (1): 59–72.

Nemec, W. 2009. What is a hyperconcentrated flow? Conference: IAS Annual Meeting, Alghero (Sardinia), 20–23 September 2009. Abstracts volume.

Otharán, G., C. Zavala, M. Arcuri, D. Marchal, G. Köhler, M. Di Meglio, and A. Zorzano. 2018. The role of fluid mud flows in the accumulation of organic-rich shales. The Upper Jurassic–Lower Cretaceous Vaca Muerta Formation, Neuquén Basin, Argentina. In: Congreso de Exploración y Desarrollo de Hidrocarburos, 10th, Simposio de Recursos No Convencionales, Extended abstracts, 61–90. Mendoza.

Otharán, G., C. Zavala, M. Arcuri, M. Di Meglio, A. Zorzano, D. Marchal, and G. Köhler. 2020. Análisis de facies de fangolitas bituminosas asociadas a flujos fluidos de fango. Sección inferior de la Formación Vaca Muerta (Tithoniano), Cuenca Neuquina central, Argentina. Andean Geology, 47 (2). http://dx.doi.org/10.5027/andgeo%25x.

Pettijohn, F.J. 1975. Sedimentary Rocks, Third Edition. Harper and Row, New York, 628 pp.

Pierson, T. C. 2005. Hyperconcentrated flow — Transitional process between water flow and debris flow. In: M. Jakob, and O. Hungr (Eds.), Debris-Flow Hazards and Related Phenomena. Chapter 8: 159–202. Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Pierson, T.C., and J.C. Costa. 1987. A rheologic classification of subaerial sediment-water fows. In: J.E. Costa, and G.F. Wieczorek (Eds.), Debris Flows/Avalanches: Process, Recognition and Mitigation. GSA Reviews in Engineering Geology 7: 1–12.

Pierson, T.C., and K.M. Scott. 1985. Downstream dilution of a lahar: Transition from debris flow to hyperconcentrated streamflow. Water Resources Research 21 (10): 1511–1524.

Prior, D.B., B.D. Bornhold, and M.W. Johns. 1984. Depositional characteristics of a submarine debris flow. Journal of Geology 29: 707–727.

Sanders, J.E. 1965. Primary sedimentary structures formed by turbidity currents and related sedimentation mechanisms. In: G.V. Middleton (Ed.), Primary Sedimentary Structures and their Hydrodinamic Interpretation. SEPM Special Publications 12: 192–219.

Schieber, J., J.B. Southard, and A. Schimmelmann. 2010. Lenticular shale fabrics resulting from intermittent erosion of water-rich muds: interpreting the rock record in the light of recent flume experiments. Journal of Sedimentary Research 80: 119–128. doi:10.2110/jsr.2010.005.

Schumm, S. A. 1977. The Fluvial System. New York, Wiley, 338 pp.

Smith, G.A., 1986. Coarse grained nonmarine volcaniclastic sediment terminology and depositional process. GSA Bulletin 97: 1–10.

Smith, G.A., and D.R. Lowe. 1991. Lahars volcano hydrologic events and deposition in the debris flow hyperconcentrated flow continuum. Sedimentation in Volcanic Settings. SEPM Special Publication 45: 59–70.

Soyinka, O.A., and R.M. Slatt. 2008. Identification and microstratigraphy of hyperpycnites and turbidites in Cretaceous Lewis Shale, Wyoming. Sedimentology 55 (5): 1117–1133. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-3091.2007.00938.x.

Sparks, R.S.J., R.T. Bonnecaze, H.E. Huppert, J.R. Lister, M.A. Hallworth, J. Phillips, and H. Mader. 1993. Sediment-laden gravity currents with reversing buoyancy. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 114: 243–257.

Sumner, E.J., L.A. Amy, and P.J. Talling. 2008. Deposit structure and processes of sand deposition from decelerating sediment suspensions. Journal of Sedimentary Research 78 (8): 529–547.

Syvitski, J.P.M., S.D. Peckham, R.D. Hilberman, and T. Mulder. 2003. Predicting the terrestrial flux of sediment to the global ocean: A planetary perspective. Sedimentary Geology 162: 5–24.

Weirich, F. 1989. The generation of turbidity currents by subaerial debris flows. California. GSA Bulletin 101: 278–291.

Wilson, R., and J. Schieber. 2014. Muddy prodeltaic hyperpycnites in the Lower Genesee Group of Central New York, USA: Implications for mud transport in epicontinental seas. Journal of Sedimentary Research 84: 866–874. https://doi.org/10.2110/jsr.2014.70.

Wilson, R.D., and J. Schieber. 2015. Sedimentary facies and depositional environment of the Middle Devonian Geneseo Formation of New York, USA. Journal of Sedimentary Research 85 (11): 1393–1415. https://doi.org/10.2110/jsr.2015.88.

Zavala, C. 2020. Hyperpycnal Flows and Deposits. Journal of Palaeogeography. (2020) 9:17, 1-21. Beijing, China. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42501-020-00065-x

Zavala, C., and M. Arcuri. 2016. Intrabasinal and extrabasinal turbidites: Origin and distinctive characteristics. Sedimentary Geology 337: 36–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sedgeo.2016.03.008.

Zavala, C., and S.X. Pan. 2018. Hyperpycnal flows and hyperpycnites: Origin and distinctive characteristics. Lithologic Reservoirs 30 (1): 1–27.

Zavala, C., J. Ponce, D. Drittanti, M. Arcuri, H. Freije, and M. Asensio. 2006. Ancient lacustrine hyperpycnites: A depositional model from a case study in the Rayoso Formation (Cretaceous) of west-central Argentina. Journal of Sedimentary Research 76: 41–59.

Zavala, C., L. Blanco Valiente, and Y. Vallez. 2008. The origin of lofting rhythmites. Lessons from thin sections. AAPG Hedberg Conference “Sediment Transfer from Shelf to Deepwater — Revisiting the Delivery Mechanisms”. March 3–7, 2008—Ushuaia-Patagonia, Argentina (http://www.searchanddiscovery.com/pdfz/documents/2008/jw0807zavala/images/jw0807zavala.pdf.html).

Zavala, C., M. Arcuri, and L. Blanco Valiente. 2012. The importance of plant remains as a diagnostic criteria for the recognition of ancient hyperpycnites. Revue de Paléobiologie 11: 457–469.

Zavala, C., M. Arcuri, H. Gamero Diaz, and C. Contreras. 2007. The composite bed: A new distinctive feature of hyperpycnal deposition (abs.): AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, v. 16, p. 157.

Zavala, C., M. Arcuri, H. Gamero, C. Contreras, and M. Di Meglio, 2011. A genetic facies tract for the analysis of sustained hyperpycnal flow deposits. In: R.M. Slatt, and C. Zavala (Eds.), Sediment Transfer from Shelf to Deep Water — Revisiting the Delivery System. AAPG Studies in Geology, Vol. 61, pp. 31–51.