The tectonic development of a continental margin is recorded in the stratigraphic successions preserved along and across the margin in terms of stratal relationships (e.g., onlap, downlap, truncation), lithofacies, biostratigraphy, and paleo-water depths. By using these observations coupled to a kinematic and flexural model for the deformation of the lithosphere, we have elucidated the tectonic significance of the preserved stratigraphy that comprises the Gabon-Cabinda margin of west Africa. Two hinge zones, an Eastern and Atlantic, formed along the Gaban-Cabinda margin in response to three discrete extensional events occurring from Berriasian to Aptian time. The Eastern hinge zone demarcates the eastern limit of a broadly distributed Berriasian extension that resulted in the formation of deep anoxic, lacustrine systems as evidenced by the silts and shales of the Sialivakou and lower Djeno Formations and the regressive packages of the upper Djeno Formation. Approximately 1.5 to 2 km of asymmetric footwall uplift was induced across the Eastern hinge zone in response to the mechanical unloading of the lithosphere during this first phase of rifting. In contrast, the Atlantic hinge, located approximately 90 km west of the Eastern hinge, marks the eastern limit of a second phase of extension that began in the Hauterivian. Footwall uplift and rotation exposed earlier syn-rift and pre-rift sediments to at least wavebase causing varying amounts of erosional truncation across the Atlantic hinge zone along much of the Gabon-Cabinda margins. We interpret the thickness variations of reworked elastic sediment of this age (e.g. the Melania Formation) between the hinge zones as indicative of variations in the degree of uplift and erosional truncation of the Atlantic hinge. For example, the absence of Melania Formation across the Congo margin implies that uplift of the Atlantic hinge was relatively minor compared to that across the Cabinda and Gabon margins, the latter being characterized by significant thicknesses of Melania Formation (or equivalent). Material eroded from the Cabinda and Gabon Atlantic hinge zone may in part account for the thick wedge of sediment deposited seaward of the Gabon-Cabinda Atlantic hinge (the Erva Formation). Our modelling suggests that this wedge of reworked elastics represents deposition by along-axis gravity flows within a deep water (approximate to 2 km) environment. A third and final phase of extension in the late Barremian-early Aptian was responsible for breaching the continental lithosphere to farm the ocean/continent boundary and thus the installation of open marine conditions. Elsewhere, the environments will tend to be marginal marine to brackish, depending on the efficiency of the Atlantic hinge zone to act as a barrier to marine enchroachment. This third rift phase reactivated both the Eastern and Atlantic hinge zones thereby creating accommodation for the Marnes Noires Formation (and equivalent) source rock deposition between the hinges and the Falcao source rock equivalent seaward of the Atlantic hinge. Two possible scenarios exist for the lateral distribution of the Marnes Noires Formation, If the reactivated rift flank topography across the Atlantic hinge was significant, then sedimentation would be restricted between the hinge zones within discrete lacustrine settings (e.g., Congo margin), Alternatively, if hinge zone uplift was relatively minor, then a coral-rimmed archipelago may have developed parallel to the margin with restricted communication across the Atlantic hinge zone (e.g., Cabinda margin), In this latter scenario, dilution of the Marnes Noires source rocks by terrigenous input from the eroding Atlantic hinge zone should be relatively minor thereby enhancing source rock quality, Furthermore, potential marine upwelling outboard of the Atlantic hinge zone is likely the cause for the production and accumulation of organic-rich material associated with the Falcao source rock of the Kwanza basin. By late Aptian time, the remaining accommodation between the hinge zones was partially filled by across-and along-axis prograding deltaic systems of the Argilles Vertes and Tchibota Formations. The progradation and interaction of the Argilles Vertes depositional lobes resulted in the formation of residual paleo-relief. Subsequent marine incursions and flooding of this paleo-relief led to the development of basal conglomerates (the Chela 'lag' unconformity) grading upward into fine-grained sands and evaporites, Consequently, an inverse relationship should exist between evaporite thickness (in particular, the lower members) and the thickness of the underlying Argilles Vertes and Tchibota Formations. Variations in Loeme evaporite thickness is a consequence of stratigraphic and structural control with salt instability influencing local variability,Our modeling suggests the occurrence of two distinct evaporite sequences on the Congo margin, an earlier evaporite deposited seaward (west) of the Atlantic hinge during the second and third rift phases and the late Aptian Loeme Formation deposited between the hinge zones. An evaporite sequence seaward of the Atlantic hinge is inferred on the basis of extensive diapirs and salt tectonic structures observed in seismic data. In order to match the distribution and thickness of the observed post-salt stratigraphy across the basin, however, we require large paleowater depths west of the Atlantic hinge during the later Aptian, The existence of large paleowater depths precludes the formation of thick evaporite sequences within the outer basin, Consequently, we propose that the evaporites seaward of the Atlantic hinge were formed during the syn-rift development of the margin and are not contemporaneous with the post-rift Loeme salts deposited between the hinge zones. This double salt hypothesis is consistent with observations from the conjugate Brazilian margin. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd, All rights reserved.
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