Episodic fluid flow as a trigger for Miocene-Pliocene slope instability on the Utgard High, Norwegian Sea
Mass wasting is triggered on many continental slopes by a number of mechanisms, including seismic shaking, high sedimentation rates, the presence of weak geological units and gas hydrate dissociation. In this study, the morphology of a Late Miocene–Early Pliocene mass-transport complex (MTC) on the Utgard High is unravelled and discussed in relation to possible trigger mechanisms. The approach used here includes 3D seismic interpretation and the analysis of variance attribute maps. The interpreted MTC is located on the crest and flanks of the Utgard High and is composed of three mass-transport deposits with seismic characters varying from transparent and chaotic seismic facies at the base to slightly deformed layers composed of mounds and rafted blocks in the middle and chaotic to transparent reflections at the top. Lithologically, the MTC consists predominantly of claystone with high gamma ray and low density and resistivity values, demonstrating that the associated mounds represent remobilized ooze sediments. A vertical stack of six magmatic sills emplaced from 55.6 to 56.3 Ma into the Upper Cretaceous shales is interpreted at depths of 3,000–5,500 ms two-way travel time (TWTT). In association with these magmatic sills are several hydrothermal vent complexes that interacted with the top MTC horizon, signifying that episodic and secondary fluid-venting events might be the principal mechanism facilitating mass wasting in the study area. In addition, the remobilization of ooze sediments into mounds is hypothesized to be dependent on fluids and clayey layers. As a corollary of this work, the importance of relict and recurrent episodes of fluid flow in the Vøring Basin and their influence on the geotechnical integrity of the overburden and later mass wasting is established.