Contrary to widely used sequence-stratigraphic models, lowstand fans are only part of the turbidite depositional record; our analysis reveals that a comparable volume of coarse-grained sediment has been deposited in California borderland deep-water basins regardless of sea level. Sedimentation rates and periods of active sediment transport have been determined for deep-water canyon-channel systems contributing to the southeastern Gulf of Santa Catalina and San Diego Trough since 40 ka using an extensive grid of high-resolution and deep-penetration seismic-reflection data. A regional seismic-reflection horizon (40 ka) has been correlated across the study area using radiocarbon age dates from the Mohole borehole and U.S. Geological Survey piston cores. This study focused on the submarine fans fed by the Oceanside, Carlsbad, and La Jolla Canyons, all of which head within the length of the Ocean-side littoral cell. The Oceanside Canyon–channel system was active from 45 to 13 ka, and the Carlsbad system was active from 50 (or earlier) to 10 ka. The La Jolla system was active over two periods, from 50 (or earlier) to 40 ka, and from 13 ka to the present. One or more of these canyon-channel systems have been active regardless of sea level. During sea-level fluctuation, shelf width between the canyon head and the littoral zone is the primary control on canyon-channel system activity. Highstand fan deposition occurs when a majority of the sediment within the Oceanside littoral cell is intercepted by one of the canyon heads, currently La Jolla Canyon. Since 40 ka, the sedimentation rate on the La Jolla highstand fan has been >2 times the combined rates on the Oceanside and Carlsbad lowstand fans.

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