We analyzed data from seven piston cores, multi-channel seismic-reflection (MCS) and chirp profiles, and multibeam echosounder (MBES) data to study the distribution, emplacement time, sedimentary facies, and depositional processes of sediment-gravity-flow deposits in the Onnuri Basin, a confined basin in the East Sea. These data reveal that debris flows have traveled ca. 30 km downslope, forming a seismic facies consisting of stacked, wedge-shaped, transparent units separated by high-amplitude continuous reflectors. Analysis of piston cores shows three distinct sedimentary units, throughout the basin. The lowest unit, I, is a debrite containing numerous mud clasts of varying size and color distributed in a mud-rich matrix; it is absent over elevated basinal highs or ridges, such as the Onnuri Ridge, suggesting that local topography controls its distribution. The debrite forms a recognizable acoustically transparent layer on subbottom chirp profiles (av. 7 m thick), covers approximately 500 km2, and has an estimated volume of ∼ 3.5 km3.
The overlying unit, II, contains normally graded beds composed of massive sand, laminated and cross-laminated sand and silt, and a thick cap of structureless mud. This unit is interpreted to be a megaturbidite deposited from turbidity currents that originated from the flow transformation of debris flows on the upper continental slope. The megaturbidite covers the entire basin (at least 650 km2), and has an average thickness of 2.8 m (maximum thickness of 4.35 m), and comprises a volume of 1.8 km3. Variations in grain size and sedimentary structures suggest that the megaturbidite was deposited by progressively waning flows that reflected off basin flanks and ridges. The thick (up to 3.65 m) structureless mud cap further indicates deposition in a confined basin. The sharp basal contact, together with the lack of hemipelagic sediments between debrite and overlying megaturbidite, suggest that both were deposited during the same flow event, likely to have originated from a single catastrophic slope failure. Collapsing slide material evolved into a debris flow, from which a turbidite formed by dilution of the debris flow. Radiocarbon dates suggest that the slope failure occurred about 13–11 ka, a time when sea level was ca. 50 m lower than at the present day. Hemipelagic sediments in the topmost unit, III-2, above the megaturbidite indicate that the basin has been stable since ca. 11 ka.
We provide robust evidence that submarine slope failures evolve downslope into slides, debris flows, and finally, thick megaturbidites. This contribution highlights the importance of seafloor morphology on the distribution and stratigraphy of submarine flows in confined basins.