Abstract

Although sea-level highstands are typically associated with sediment-starved continental shelves, high sea level does not hinder major river floods. Turbidity currents generated by plunging of sediment-laden rivers at the fluvial-marine interface, known as hyperpycnal flows, allow for cross-shelf transport of suspended sand beyond the coastline. Hyperpycnal flows in southern California have deposited six subaqueous fans on the shelf of the northern Santa Barbara Channel in the Holocene. Using eight cores and nine grab samples, we describe the deposits, age, and stratigraphic architecture of two fans in the Santa Barbara Channel. Fan lobes have up to 3 m of relief and are composed of multiple hyperpycnite beds ∼5 cm to 40 cm thick. Deposit architecture and geometry suggest the hyperpycnal flows became positively buoyant and lifted off the seabed, resulting in well-sorted, structureless, elongate sand lobes. Contrary to conventional sequence stratigraphic models, the presence of these features on the continental shelf suggests that active-margin shelves may locally develop high-quality reservoir sand bodies during sea-level highstands, and that such shelves need not be solely the site of sediment bypass. These deposits may provide a Quaternary analogue to many well-sorted sand bodies in the rock record that are interpreted as turbidites but lack typical Bouma-type features.

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