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The 1929 “Grand Banks” earthquake, slump, and turbidity current

By
David J. W. Piper
David J. W. Piper
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Alexander N. Shor
Alexander N. Shor
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John E. Hughes Clarke
John E. Hughes Clarke
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Published:
January 01, 1988

The epicenter of the 1929 “Grand Banks” earthquake (Ms = 7.2) was on the continental slope above the Laurentian Fan. The zone in which cables broke instantaneously due to the earthquake is characterized by surface slumping up to 100 km from the epicenter as shown by sidescan sonographs and seismic reflection profiles. The uppermost continental slope, however, is almost undisturbed and is underlain by till deposited from grounded ice.

The Eastern Valley of the Laurentian Fan contains surficial gravels molded into large sediment waves, believed to have formed during the passage of the 1929 turbidity current. Sand sheets and ribbons overlie gravel waves in the lower reaches of Eastern Valley. Cable-break times indicate a maximum flow velocity of 67 km/hr (19 m/s). The occurrence of erosional lineations and gravel on valley walls and low intravalley ridges suggest that the turbidity current was several hundred meters thick. The current deposited at least 175 km3 of sediment, primarily in a vast lobe on the northern Sohm Abyssal Plain where a bed more than 1 m thick contains material ranging in size from gravel to coarse silt.

There is no apparent source for so much coarse sediment on the slumped areas of the muddy continental slope. We therefore infer that there was a large volume of sand and gravel available in the upper fan valley deposits before the earthquake. This coarse sediment was discharged from sub-glacial meltwater streams when the major ice outlet through the Laurentian Channel was grounded on the upper slope during middle Wisconsinan time. This sediment liquefied during the 1929 event, and the resulting flow was augmented by slumping of proglacial silts and gas-charged Holocene mud on the slope. Although earthquakes of this magnitude probably have a recurrence interval of a few hundred years on the eastern Canadian margin, we know of no other deposits of the size of the 1929 turbidite off eastern Canada. For such convulsive events, both a large-magnitude earthquake and a sufficient accumulation of sediment are required.

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GSA Special Papers

Sedimentologic Consequences of Convulsive Geologic Events

H. Edward Clifton
H. Edward Clifton
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Geological Society of America
Volume
229
ISBN print:
9780813722290
Publication date:
January 01, 1988

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