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New flow relaxation mechanism explains scour fields at the end of submarine channels.

Pohl, F. and Eggenhuisen, J. T. and Tilston, M. and Cartigny, M. J. B. (2019) 'New flow relaxation mechanism explains scour fields at the end of submarine channels.', Nature communications., 10 (1). p. 4425.


Particle-laden gravity flows, called turbidity currents, flow through river-like channels across the ocean floor. These submarine channels funnel sediment, nutrients, pollutants and organic carbon into ocean basins and can extend for over 1000’s of kilometers. Upon reaching the end of these channels, flows lose their confinement, decelerate, and deposit their sediment load; this is what we read in textbooks. However, sea floor observations have shown the opposite: turbidity currents tend to erode the seafloor upon losing confinement. Here we use a state-of-the-art scaling method to produce the first experimental turbidity currents that erode upon leaving a channel. The experiments reveal a novel flow mechanism, here called flow relaxation, that explains this erosion. Flow relaxation is rapid flow deformation resulting from the loss of confinement, which enhances basal shearing of the turbidity current and leads to scouring. This flow mechanism plays a key role in the propagation of submarine channel systems.

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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:30 August 2019
Date deposited:08 October 2019
Date of first online publication:27 September 2019
Date first made open access:08 October 2019

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