Submarine landslides can be far larger than those on land, and are one of the most important processes for moving sediment across our planet. Landslides that are fast enough to disintegrate can generate potentially very hazardous tsunamis and produce long run-out turbidity currents that break strategically important cable networks. It is important to understand their frequency and triggers. We document the distribution of recurrence intervals for turbidity currents triggered by large landslides (>0.1 km3) in three basin plains. A common distribution of recurrence intervals is observed, despite variable ages and disparate locations, suggesting similar underlying controls on slide triggers and frequency. This common distribution closely approximates a temporally random Poisson distribution, such that the probability of a large disintegrating slide occurring along the basin margin is independent of the time since the last slide. This distribution suggests that non-random processes such as sea level are not a dominant control on frequency of these slides. Recurrence intervals of major (>M 7.3) earthquakes have an approximately Poissonian distribution, suggesting they could be implicated as triggers. However, not all major earthquakes appear to generate widespread turbidites, and other as yet unknown triggers or sequential combinations of processes could produce the same distribution. This is the first study to show that large slide-triggered turbidites have a common frequency distribution in distal basin plains, and that this distribution is temporally random. This result has important implications for assessing hazards from landslide-tsunamis and seafloor cable breaks, and the long-term tempo of global sediment fluxes.

You do not currently have access to this article.