Abstract

The planform geometry of submarine channels commonly exhibits a spatiotemporal stability generally not observed in fluvial channels. As such, submarine channels tend to lack the meander loop cutoffs and frequent avulsion history typical of fluvial channels. Fluvial sinuosity develops through inner-bend deposition and outer-bend erosion. Inner-bend deposits have also been recognized in submarine channels, from subsurface and seafloor images and from ancient channel outcrops, and have been demonstrated within physical models. However, outer-bend sediment accumulations are a feature thought to be unique to submarine channels. We report on physical experiments on channelized, subaqueous, particle-driven turbidity currents that demonstrate that channel-fill architecture relates directly to the degree of flow bypass, in turn largely determined by the degree of confinement. In general, weakly bypassing flows deposit at the outer bend, whereas strongly bypassing flows deposit at the inner bend. Therefore flows within aggradational channel systems whose axes are bypass dominated may preferentially deposit at the inner bend, ultimately having the effect of increasing channel sinuosity through time; this is an evolution pattern commonly observed in seismic images. Once developed, the apparent spatio-temporal longevity of sinuosity within many systems may be explained by the passage of turbidity currents of varying magnitude (and consequently bypass potential) depositing preferentially at either the inner or outer bank of the channel, maintaining a quasistable morphological equilibrium. Fluvial channels do not have the ability to reduce or maintain their sinuosity in this way, which plausibly explains why they tend to develop cutoffs at higher rates than subaqueous channels.

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