The active Pacific margin of the Haida Gwaii and southeast Alaska has been subject to vigorous storm activity, dramatic sea-level change, and active tectonism since glacial times. Glaciation was minimal along the western shelf margin, except for large ice streams that formed glacial valleys to the shelf break between the major islands of southeast Alaska and Haida Gwaii. Upon deglaciation, sediment discharge was extensive, but it terminated quickly due to rapid glacial retreat and sea-level lowering with the development of a glacio-isostatic forebulge, coupled with eustatic lowering. Glacial sedimentation offshore ended soon after 15.0 ka. The shelf became emergent, with sea level lowering by, and possibly greater than, 175 m. The rapid transgression that followed began sometime before 12.7 ka off Haida Gwaii and 12.0 ka off southeast Alaska, and with the extreme wave-dominated environment, the unconsolidated sediment that was left on the shelf was effectively removed. Temperate carbonate sands make up the few sediment deposits presently found on the shelf.
The Queen Charlotte fault, which lies just below the shelf break for most of its length, was extensively gullied during this short period of significant sediment discharge, when sediment was transported though the glacial valleys and across the narrow shelf through fluvial and submarine channels and was deposited offshore as sea level dropped. The Queen Charlotte fault became the western terminus of the glacio-isostatic forebulge, with the fault acting as a hinged flap taking up the uplift and collapse along the fault of 70+ m. This may have resulted in the development of the distinctive fault valley that presently acts as a very linear channel pathway for sediment throughout the fault system.