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Giant submarine canyons: Is size any clue to their importance in the rock record?

August 29, 2003

Submarine canyons are the most important conduits for funneling sediment from continents to oceans. Submarine canyons, however, are zones of sediment bypassing, and little sediment accumulates in the canyon until it ceases to be an active conduit. To understand the potential importance in the rock record of any given submarine canyon, it is necessary to understand sediment-transport processes in, as well as knowledge of, deep-sea turbidite and related deposits that moved through the canyons. There is no straightforward correlation between the final volume of the sedimentary deposits and size of the associated submarine canyons. Comparison of selected modern submarine canyons together with their deposits emphasizes the wide range of scale differences between canyons and their impact on the rock record.

Three of the largest submarine canyons in the world are incised into the Beringian (North American) margin of the Bering Sea. Zhemchug Canyon has the largest cross-section at the shelf break and greatest volume of incision of slope and shelf. The Bering Canyon, which is farther south in the Bering Sea, is first in length and total area. In contrast, the largest submarine fans-e.g., Bengal, Indus, and Amazon-have substantially smaller, delta-front submarine canyons that feed them; their submarine drainage areas are one-third to less than one-tenth the area of Bering Canyon. some very large deep-sea channels and tubidite deposits are not even associated with a significant submarine canyon; examples include Horizon Channel in the northeast Pacific and Laurentian Fan Valley in the North Atlantic. Available data suggest that the size of turbidity currents (as determined by volume of sediment transported to the basins) is also not a reliable indicator of submarine canyon size.

Publication Year 2003
Title Giant submarine canyons: Is size any clue to their importance in the rock record?
DOI 10.1130/0-8137-2370-1.175
Authors William R. Normark, Paul R. Carlson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title GSA Special Papers
Index ID 70122911
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coastal and Marine Geology Program