Submarine gullies—small-scale, straight, shallow channels formed in relatively high seafloor-slope settings—are ubiquitous features that play an important role in the general evolution of continental margin morphology. The mechanisms associated with the origin and evolution of submarine gullies are, however, still poorly defined. In this paper, we present evidence of a topographic signature of gully erosion in the Cook Strait sector of the Hikurangi subduction margin, New Zealand. This signature indicates that submarine gully initiation is a threshold process driven by unconfined, directionally stable fluid or sediment gravity flows accelerating downslope. We propose cascading dense water, a type of current that is driven by seawater density contrast, as the source of these flows. The sensitivity of such ephemeral hydrodynamic events to climate change raises questions regarding implications for future variation of the distribution and magnitude of a significant seafloor erosion process.

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