Abstract

While submarine canyons are the major conduits through which sediments are transported from the continents out into the deep sea, the time it takes for sediment to pass down through a submarine canyon system is poorly constrained. Here we report on the first study to couple optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) ages of quartz sand deposits and accelerator mass spectrometry 14C ages measured on benthic foraminifera to examine the timing of sediment transport through the axial channel of Monterey Submarine Canyon and Fan, offshore California. The OSL ages date the timing of sediment entry into the canyon head while the 14C ages of benthic foraminifera record the deposition of hemipelagic sediments that bound the sand horizons. We use both single-grain and small (∼2 mm area) single-aliquot regeneration approaches on vibracore samples from fining-upward sequences at various water depths to demonstrate relatively rapid, decadal-scale sand transport to at least 1.1 km depth and more variable decadal- to millennial-scale transport to a least 3.5 km depth on the fan. Significant differences between the time sand was last exposed at the canyon head (OSL age) and the timing of deposition of the sand (from 14C ages of benthic foraminifera in bracketing hemipelagic sediments) are interpreted as indicating that the sand does not pass through the entire canyon instantly in large individual events, but rather moves multiple times before emerging onto the fan. The increased spread in single-grain OSL dates with water depth provides evidence of mixing and temporary storage of sediment as it moves through the canyon system. The ages also indicate that the frequency of sediment transport events decreases with distance down the canyon channel system. The amalgamated sands near the canyon head yield OSL ages that are consistent with a sub-decadal recurrence frequency while the fining-upward sand sequences on the fan indicate that the channel is still experiencing events with a 150–250 year recurrence frequency out to 3.5 km water depths.

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