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Morphology and genesis of giant seafloor depressions on the southeasterncontinental shelf of the Korean Peninsula

June 27, 2019

We identify and describe five giant seafloor depressions from the southeastern continental shelf of the Korean Peninsula using multibeam bathymetry, sub-bottom profiler, and multi-channel seismic reflection data, supplemented by piston cores. Multibeam bathymetry data from the shelf show four crescent-shaped depressions (SD1 to SD4) and one near-circular depression (SD5) within a group of NW-SE trending depressions, the largest covering an area of about 7 km2 on the seafloor. The depressions reach up to ~4.5 km in width and ~2 km in length and have asymmetric cross-sections. Some have depths as large as 40 m below the surrounding seafloor with walls as steep as 45°. The depressions are confined to water depths between 130 and 170 m and bounded on the north by a large submarine channel that was plausibly formed by fluvial or tidal processes during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) sea-level lowstand. Multi-channel seismic and sub-bottom profiler data reveal truncated depression walls and the presence of sediment drift deposits within the depressions, indicating that both erosion and deposition are active processes. Flaser and lenticular bedding in the cored drift deposits along with variable grain size (ranging between ~2.6 phi and ~4.3 phi) are diagnostic features of the bottom currents influenced by tidal forces. Depressions SD1 to SD4 lack evidence of fluid or gas escape. In contrast, many features of depression SD5 are characteristic of gas escapes and blowouts, including acoustic anomalies, a 20-m-high carbonate mound or carbonate-encrusted mound, and mud dikes and mud patches in cores. Based on the SD5 example, we think it is likely that the other crescent-shaped seafloor depressions formed originally as pockmarks by gas/fluid venting, and have since become inactive. The pockmarks represent zones of weakened sediment that were eroded, expanded, and merged by bottom currents to form larger seafloor depressions. Modern currents are strong enough to transport shelf sediments, and these currents were probably much stronger at lower sea levels when the Korea Strait was a more restricted passage between the East China Sea and East Sea.