Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Structural controls on slope failure within the western Santa Barbara Channel based on 2D and 3D seismic imaging

June 29, 2020

The Santa Barbara Channel, offshore California, contains several submarine landslides and ample evidence for incipient failure. This region hosts active thrust and reverse faults that accommodate several mm/yr of convergence, yet the relationships between tectonic deformation and slope failure remain unclear. We present 3‐D and 2‐D multichannel seismic reflection (MCS) data sets, multibeam bathymetry, and chronostratigraphic constraints to investigate the controls on slope failure. Splay faulting along the North Channel Deformation Trend (NCDT) coincides with a distinct zone of compressional uplift and onlapping of steeply dipping Quaternary strata. The NCDT is spatially correlated with seafloor fissures, and 3‐D seismic analyses reveal an intricate system of en echelon reverse faults that offset sediments younger than ~25 ka. Localized uplift zones are located between faults, one of which underlies the Gaviota landslide headscarp. We observe a direct relationship between slope failure and along‐strike variations in the tectonostratigraphic framework. Based on geophysical properties at Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Site 893, we predict a trend in compaction and porosity reduction in the basin that drives pore fluids up‐dip, toward the zone of onlap above the NCDT, thus reducing slope stability. This interplay between tectonic, sedimentary, and fluid‐flow processes along the NCDT has created a confluence of preconditioning factors, with Gaviota and Goleta landslides being distinguished from the surrounding slopes by their position above the NCDT. The distribution of seafloor fissures suggests sections of the slope remain unstable and are prone to future landsliding. These results provide insights into the processes and 3‐D feedbacks that lead to slope instability along other convergent margins.