How and when sediment moves from terrestrial sources to deep-water sinks is a significant area of research. We have used an array of seismic, borehole, and gravity core data sets to explore the timing and magnitude of sediment-routing to Pearl River slope over the last 478 k.y. As predicted by existing sequence stratigraphic models, most sediment dispersal to deep water is shown to have occurred during glacial sea-level falls; however, clastic detritus was still being transported into deep water during interglacial sea-level rises. We suggest that sediment routing to deep water during interglacial sea-level rise is caused by summer monsoon strengthening and resultant warmer and wetter climates, both of which have enhanced effective precipitation and sediment supply. Although some models for the delivery of sediment to deep-water basins stress the importance of proximity of canyon heads and coeval shorelines, we observed that sediment routing to deep water could occur regardless of the distance between channel head and coeval shorelines. In the present case, the success of delivery is related to the combined effects of (1) the short duration and high amplitude of sea-level oscillations during the past 478 k.y. and (2) the enhanced sediment supply caused by more humid climates and greater temperature difference between glacial and interglacial period. This hypothesis is supported by (1) observations that outer Pearl River deltas prograded as an apron over preexisting shelf edges for 10–15 km (6–9 mi) and (2) the occurrence of slope channels extending back to prodelta reaches of Pearl River shelf-edge deltas.

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