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Many mass transport complexes (MTCs) contain up to kilometre-scale (mega)clasts encased in a debritic matrix. Although many megaclasts are sourced from the headwall areas, the irregular basal shear surfaces of many MTCs indicate that megaclast entrainment during the passage of flows into the deeper basin is also common. However, the mechanisms responsible for the entrainment of large blocks of substrate, and their influence on the longitudinal behaviour of the associated flows, have not been widely considered. We present examples of megaclasts from exhumed MTCs (the Neuquén Basin, Argentina and the Karoo Basin, South Africa) and MTCs imaged in three-dimensional seismic reflection data (Magdalena Fan, offshore Colombia and Santos Basin, offshore Brazil) to investigate these process–product interactions. We show that highly sheared basal surfaces are well developed in distal locations, sometimes extending beyond their associated deposit. This points to deformation and weakening of the substrate ahead of the flow, suggesting that preconditioning of the substrate by distributed shear ahead of, and to the side of, a mass flow could result in the entrainment of large fragments. An improved understanding of the interactions between flow evolution, seabed topography, and the entrainment and abrasion of megaclasts will help to refine estimates of run-out distances, and therefore the geohazard potential of submarine landslides.

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