Abstract:

Ultra-high-resolution (1 m * 1 m * 0.25 m) bathymetry was acquired with an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) over a sector of the Navy Fan offshore Baja California. The survey specifically targeted an area where the former interpretation of the fan showed a channel–lobe transition; however, the lobe and the transition were not recognized. Instead, the newly acquired bathymetry shows that the previously identified channel continues basinward changing its overall morphology and stratigraphic architecture, becoming gradually but significantly wider (650–1000 m) and of lower relief (3–4 m). Cores from the channel thalweg recovered mud-poor (< 5%) well-sorted sands, interpreted as deposited by fully turbulent flows. The cores also show several mud-rich (9–18%) poorly sorted sands, probably indicating deposition from more cohesive flows.

The high-resolution bathymetry shows large sectors of the seafloor sculpted by elaborate bedforms and scours. The overbank area north of the channel exhibits the most numerous and prominent scours, interpreted to have been largely generated by flow stripping at a bend in the channel. Along high-gradient sectors (more than approximately 1¯) of this area, the scours are largest and deepest. Some of these scours show an erosional headwall and a distal upflow-dipping depositional bulge, forming repetitive bedforms interpreted as erosional cyclic steps associated with locked-in-place trains of hydraulic jumps. The scours seem to coalesce to form an incipient channel, which would likely drive the avulsion of the main channel. Further basinward, average gradients decrease (< 0.6¯ ) and scours become smaller and less deep suggesting a gradient control on erosion. The southern channel margin and adjacent overbank area exhibit a trend of scours that are elongated transverse to flow, that successively repeat themselves basinwards, and that at times merge with sediment waves. Probably these scours are genetically linked to sediment waves, and they may have been formed by cyclic-step-like processes as well. The acquired bathymetry represents a breakthrough in the imaging of the proximal sectors of deep-sea fans, which provides the basis for an accurate morphometric characterization and the understanding of sedimentary processes and morphodynamics associated with the delivery of sediment into the deep sea.

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