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Abstract

The floor of the Yellow Sea is a geologically mundane surface: it is nearly horizontal, lacks relief, and, with few exceptions, is devoid of conspicuous geomorphologic features. However, it is the principal repository for the prodigious sediment load of the Huanghe (Yellow River); and, due to its inherent shallowness (average depth is 40 m), it is frequently stressed by waves generated by winter storms and typhoons. Analyses of mass physical properties of cores representing the upper few meters of sediment in the central and north-central Yellow Sea (near the Shandong Peninsula), in conjunction with analyses of slope stability, failure modes, and erodibility, permit an assessment of the likelihood and effect of dynamic, transient geologic events on the seabed.

Vane shear-strength profiles along with consolidation test data indicate that the present surface of the seabed is in a depositional mode and is compacting normally. in addition, liquid-limit profiles imply that in the study area these neritic sediments have been accumulating in an environment that probably has not been modified significantly since sea level reached its current level. There is no geotechnical evidence in the nine cores recovered that slope failures have occurred, and clasts, sand lenses or other manifestations of mass movements, including flows, also are absent. These observations support previous interpretations of seismic records. Moreover, slope stability analysis for static conditions shows that the sea floor is quite stable.

Regardless, shear-stress levels generated by cyclic loading during major storms may approach the sediment shear strengths, and, when coupled with concomitant excess pore pressures, could cause slope failure. Unless the failed beds collapsed or flowed, however, there probably would be little conspicuous evidence of such a failure. in fact, evaluation of the potential of these sediments for disintegrative behavior suggests that they are not prone to either collapse or flow.

Storm waves also generate oscillatory bottom currents that may erode the seabed. Whether the sediment is considered as cohesionless or cohesive, typhoons could have the potential to erode at all water depths within the Yellow Sea (i.e., to 90 m), and winter storms to water depths of 60 m or more. However, in the case of cohesive behavior, it could be that the effect of winter storms and most typhoons is generally less extreme. If the sea floor is repeatedly scoured, it is likely limited to the top few centimeters.

Despite the fact that storm waves may cause slope failure and are certainly responsible for frequent scouring, they probably leave only a subtle sedimentologic imprint on the seabed.

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