Abstract

Turbidity currents are notoriously difficult to monitor directly, therefore interpretation of their deposits forms the basis for much of our understanding of these flows. The deceleration rate of a flow is a potentially important yet poorly understood control on depositional processes. A series of experiments were conducted in an annular flume, in which fast (up to 3.5 m/s) and highly turbulent flows of sand (up to 250 μm) and water were decelerated at different rates and processes of deposition and deposit character analyzed. Previously poorly documented depositional processes were observed in the experiments. This is because the flows were initially unusually fast and of prolonged duration, with sustained periods of sediment fallout as the flow slowed down. The conditions in these flows are thus likely to be closer to those at the base of a waning turbidity current than is achieved in other relatively slow experimental flows. The collapse of high-concentration, moving, thin (< 5 mm) near-bed layers (laminar sheared layers) were an important mechanism by which the bed aggraded beneath these unsteady flows. At bed aggradation rates in excess of 0.44 mm/s the sequential collapse of laminar sheared layers produced a structureless, poorly graded and poorly sorted deposit (Bouma Ta). When bed aggradation rates fell below 0.44 mm/s the collapsing laminar sheared layers were reworked by turbulence to form planar laminae (Bouma Tb). These laminae are formed in a very different manner than the planar laminae attributed to bedwaves in previous open-channel flow experiments. Collapse of laminar sheared layers is therefore an alternative process for generating the Bouma Tb division. Inverse grading developed at the base of the deposits of slowly decelerated flows. This inverse grading was probably a result of grain sorting in a high-concentration layer that persisted at the base of the flow for many minutes prior to the onset of deposition.

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