The architecture of canyon-fills can provide a valuable record of the link between tectonics, sedimentation and depositional processes in submarine settings. We investigated the role of plate tectonics in the initiation and evolution of submarine canyons. We demonstrate that events at the plate tectonic scale (i.e. continental break-up and shortening) have a first-order influence on the initiation and development of submarine canyons. The Late Cretaceous (c. 65 Ma) separation of Australia and Antarctica initially resulted in extensional fault systems, which then formed a steep stair-shaped palaeoseabed. Subsequently, the Late Miocene (c. 5 Ma) collision of Australia and Eurasia resulted in substantial uplift and exhumation on the SE Australian continental margin. These tectonic events led to elevated seismicity, which ultimately gave rise to gravity-driven processes (i.e. turbidity currents and mass wasting processes) and formed the base of the canyon. The inherited stair-shaped topography then facilitated further gravity-driven processes that established a mature sediment conduit extending from the shallow marine shelf to the abyssal plain. We suggest that the stratigraphic architecture of canyons can be used as an archive to record tectonic movements. Moreover, the factors that precondition and trigger gravity-driven processes can induce canyon initiation and facilitate canyon development.

Supplementary material: A PDF file containing all the clean, uninterpreted seismic sections is available at

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