Hyperpycnal delivery of sand to the continental shelf: Insights from the Jurassic Lajas Formation, Neuquén Basin, Argentina

Elisabeth Steel, Alexander R. Simms, Ronald Steel, Cornel Olariu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Hyperpycnal currents are river-derived turbidity currents capable of transporting significant volumes of sediment from the shoreline onto the shelf and potentially further to deep ocean basins. However, their capacity to deposit sand bodies on the continental shelf is poorly understood. Shelf hyperpycnites remain an overlooked depositional element in source to sink systems, primarily due to their limited recognition in the rock record. Recent discoveries of modern shelf hyperpycnites, and previous work describing hyperpycnites deposited in slope or deep-water settings, provide a valuable framework for understanding and recognizing shelf hyperpycnites in the rock record. This article describes well-sorted lobate sand bodies on the continental shelf of the Neuquén Basin, Argentina, interpreted to have been deposited by hyperpycnal currents. These hyperpycnites of the Jurassic Lajas Formation are characterized by well-sorted, medium-grained, parallel-laminated sandstones with hundreds of metre extensive, decimetre thick beds encased by organic-rich, thinly laminated sandstone and siltstone. These deposits represent slightly obliquely-migrating sand lobes fed by small rivers and deposited on the continental shelf. Hyperpycnites of the Lajas Formation highlight several unique characteristics of hyperpycnal deposits, including their distinctively thick horizontal laminae attributed to pulsing of the hyperpycnal currents, the extraction of coarse gravel due to low flow competence, and the extraction of mud due to lofting of light interstitial fluid. Recognition of shelf hyperpycnites in the Lajas Formation of the Neuquén Basin allows for a broader understanding of shelf processes and adds to the developing facies models of hyperpycnites. Recognizing and understanding the geometry and internal architecture of shelf hyperpycnites will improve current understanding of sediment transfer from rivers to deeper water, will improve palaeoenvironmental interpretations of sediment gravity-flow deposits, and has implications for modelling potentially high-quality hydrocarbon reservoirs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2149-2170
Number of pages22
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thank you to Elisa Medri, who served as both an excellent field assistant and a helpful translator. Thank you to C. Zavala and one anonymous reviewer for comments and suggestions that enhanced the quality of this manuscript. Thank you to Tanya Atwater and her Global Field Travel Grant for travel funding. Acknowledgement is made to the donors of the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund for support of this research. We also thank PlusPetrol, YPF and Shell for enthusiastic field discussion and financial support of the La Jardinera Project, of which this work is a part.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors. Sedimentology © 2018 International Association of Sedimentologists


  • Continental shelf
  • Lajas Formation
  • Neuquén Basin
  • hyperpycnal current
  • hyperpycnite
  • shelf sandstone
  • turbidite


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