Submarine channel systems convey terrestrially derived detritus from shallow-marine environments to some of the largest sediment accumulations on Earth, submarine fans. The stratigraphic record of submarine slope channels includes heterogeneous, composite deposits that provide evidence for erosion, sediment bypass, and deposition. However, the timing and duration of these processes is poorly constrained over geologic time scales. We integrate geochronology with detailed stratigraphic characterization to temporally constrain the stratigraphic evolution recorded by horizontally to vertically aligned channel-fill stacking patterns in a Nanaimo Group channel system exposed on Hornby and Denman Islands, British Columbia, Canada. Twelve detrital zircon samples (n = 300/sample) were used to calculate maximum depositional ages, which identified a new age range for the succession from ca. 79 to 63 Ma. We document five phases of submarine-channel evolution over 16.0 ± 1.7 m.y. including: an initial phase dominated by incision, sediment bypass, and limited deposition (phase 1); followed by increasingly shorter and more rapid phases of deposition on the slope by laterally migrating (phase 2) and aggrading channels (phase 3); a long period of deep incision (phase 4); and a final rapid phase of vertical channel aggradation (phase 5). Our results suggest that ~60% of the evolutionary history of the submarine channel system is captured in an incomplete, poorly preserved record of incision and sediment bypass, which makes up <20% of outcropping stratigraphy. Our findings are applicable to interpreting submarine channel-system evolution in ancient and modern settings worldwide and fundamentally important to understanding long-term sediment dispersal in the deep sea.

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