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Role of Submarine Canyons on Shelfbreak Erosion and Sedimentation: Modern and Ancient Examples

By
Jeffrey A. May
Jeffrey A. May
1
Present Address: Marathon Oil Company, Denver Research Center, P.O. Box 269, Littleton, Colorado 80160.
Department of Geology, Rice University
Box 1892, Houston, Texas 77251
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John E. Warme
John E. Warme
Department of Geology, Colorado School of Mines
Golden, Colorado 80401
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Richard A. Slater
Richard A. Slater
McClelland Engineers
5450 Ralston Street, Ventura, California 93003
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Published:
January 01, 1983

ABSTRACT

Heads of submarine canyons may occur anywhere on continental margins, from river mouths to continental slopes, producing a distinctive interface between shallow- and deep-marine environments. Inception of most canyons is subaerial, fluvially cut during lowered sealevel. Submarine mass flow also commences canyon formation. Submarine erosion shapes all canyons, and is especially effective in the headward region. Sliding and slumping are volumetrically most important as erosive agents, but sand spillover, bioerosion, sand flow, sand creep, and debris flow all play a part. Fluctuating channelized currents and low-velocity turbidity currents also erode and transport sediments.

Canyons alter shelfbreak circulation and sedimentation. They remove detritus from fluvial outflow, longshore transport, and cross-shelf drift, and may influence the position of rip currents. On narrow shelves, surface waves diverge over canyon heads, providing a transport corridor for the return of turbid water. Suspensates downwell along canyons as high-density nepheloid layers. Channelized currents winnow fines in upper canyon heads; focused internal tides and waves may actually break, producing more extensive erosion.

Although research on modern canyon systems has rapidly increased, detailed studies of ancient canyons remain sparse. An Eocene example from Southern California contains a tripartite fill representing progressive detachment from a nearshore source during a eustatic sealevel rise. Suspensate fallout, tractional flow, and mass-flow processes formed a basal amalgamated pebbly sandstone overlain by planar- to convolute-laminated sandstone, topped by variegated cut-and-fill mudstone channels. This tributary system fed the main canyon, filled with fining- and thinning- upward complexes.

The Pigeon Point and Carmelo Formations of coastal California and Tethyan submarine canyons of Czechoslovakia display similar fining-upward canyon fills. Contrasting Fill sequences include coarse-grained units that dominate French Maritime Alps and New Zealand canyon complexes, and shales that plug canyons in the Gulf Coast, Sacramento Valley, and Israel. Shelf size and gradient, rates of eustacy, tectonism, and subsidence, and sedimentary-source input and migration interact to create this diversity of fills in ancient submarine canyons. Quantified analyses of canyon formation, maintenance, and Fill, and application of sedimentary hydrodynamics to observed mass transport processes and their resultant ancient counterparts, are still needed.

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Contents

SEPM Special Publication

The Shelfbreak: Critical Interface on Continental Margins

Daniel Jean Stanley
Daniel Jean Stanley
Division of Sedimentology Smithsonian Institution
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George T. Moore
George T. Moore
Chevron Oil Field Research Company La Habra California
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SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology
Volume
33
ISBN electronic:
9781565761636
Publication date:
January 01, 1983

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