We mapped the distributary channel system of the Amazon deep-sea fan using the GLORIA long-range side-scan sonar. Individual channels were continuously traced for distances of up to 150 km. Channel bifurcation, although observed in only a few places, results in many cases from breaching of channel levees on the outsides of meander loops. Whether both channels remain active after branching or the original channel is abandoned by avulsion generally cannot be determined. The most striking channel characteristic is high sinuosity that results in extensive, intricate, often recurving meanders. Cutoffs and abandoned meander loops (oxbows) are observed in a few places. These meandering channels are comparable in size and appearance to those of mature fluvial systems on land, such as on the lower Mississippi River. The formation, maintenance, and modification of such extensive, well-developed meander systems would seem to require large volumes of continuous turbidity flow through the channels for relatively long time periods. This may challenge the traditional concept that channel formation and modification are accomplished by intermittent or sporadic turbidity-current events.

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