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Powerful turbidity currents driven by dense basal layers.

Paull, Charles K. and Talling, Peter J. and Maier, Katherine L. and Parsons, Daniel and Xu, Jingping and Caress, David W. and Gwiazda, Roberto and Lundsten, Eve M. and Anderson, Krystle and Barry, James P. and Chaffey, Mark and O’Reilly, Tom and Rosenberger, Kurt J. and Gales, Jenny A. and Kieft, Brian and McGann, Mary and Simmons, Steve M. and McCann, Mike and Sumner, Esther J. and Clare, Michael A. and Cartigny, Matthieu J. (2018) 'Powerful turbidity currents driven by dense basal layers.', Nature communications., 9 (1). p. 4114.


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.

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Date accepted:20 August 2018
Date deposited:16 October 2018
Date of first online publication:05 October 2018
Date first made open access:16 October 2018

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