Sediment routing from terrestrial source areas to the deep sea influences landscapes and seascapes and supply and filling of sedimentary basins. However, a comprehensive assessment of land-to-deep-sea sediment budgets over millennia with significant climate change is lacking. We provide source to sink sediment budgets using cosmogenic radionuclide–derived terrestrial denudation rates and submarine-fan deposition rates through sea-level fluctuations since oxygen isotope stage 3 (younger than 40 ka) in tectonically active, spatially restricted sediment-routing systems of Southern California. We show that source-area denudation and deep-sea deposition are balanced during a period of generally falling and low sea level (40–13 ka), but that deep-sea deposition exceeds terrestrial denudation during the subsequent period of rising and high sea level (younger than 13 ka). This additional supply of sediment is likely owed to enhanced dispersal of sediment across the shelf caused by seacliff erosion during postglacial shoreline transgression and initiation of submarine mass wasting. During periods of both low and high sea level, land and deep-sea sediment fluxes do not show orders of magnitude imbalances that might be expected in the wake of major sea-level changes. Thus, sediment-routing processes in a globally significant class of small, tectonically active systems might be fundamentally different from those of larger systems that drain entire orogens, in which sediment storage in coastal plains and wide continental shelves can exceed millions of years. Furthermore, in such small systems, depositional changes offshore can reflect onshore changes when viewed over time scales of several thousand years to more than 10 k.y.

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