Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Powerful turbidity currents driven by dense basal layers

October 5, 2018

Seafloor sediment flows (turbidity currents) are among the volumetrically most important yet least documented sediment transport processes on Earth. A scarcity of direct observations means that basic characteristics, such as whether flows are entirely dilute or driven by a dense basal layer, remain equivocal. Here we present the most detailed direct observations yet from oceanic turbidity currents. These powerful events in Monterey Canyon have frontal speeds of up to 7.2 m s−1, and carry heavy (800 kg) objects at speeds of ≥4 m s−1. We infer they consist of fast and dense near-bed layers, caused by remobilization of the seafloor, overlain by dilute clouds that outrun the dense layer. Seabed remobilization probably results from disturbance and liquefaction of loose-packed canyon-floor sand. Surprisingly, not all flows correlate with major perturbations such as storms, floods or earthquakes. We therefore provide a new view of sediment transport through submarine canyons into the deep-sea.

Publication Year 2018
Title Powerful turbidity currents driven by dense basal layers
DOI 10.1038/s41467-018-06254-6
Authors C. K. Paull, P. J. Talling, Katherine L. Maier, Daniel Parsons, Jingping Xu, D. W. Caress, R. Gwiazda, E. Lundsten, K. Anderson, James P. Barry, M. Chaffey, T. O'Reilly, Kurt J. Rosenberger, Jenny Gales, Brian Kieft, Mary McGann, Samantha E. Simmons, M. McCann, Esther J. Sumner, M. A. Clare, M. J. Cartigny
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Nature Communications
Index ID 70227894
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center