The Wide Bay Canyon system: A case study of canyon morphology on the east Australian continental margin

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Phyllis W Yu1, Thomas Hubble2, David Airey3, Stephen J Gallagher4 and Samantha L Clarke1, (1)University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, (2)University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia, (3)School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, (4)The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
A voyage was conducted aboard the RV Southern Surveyor in early 2013 to investigate the east Australian continental margin. From the continental slope of the Wide Bay region offshore Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia, remote sensing data and sediment samples were collected. Bathymetric data reveals that the continental slope of the region presents a mature canyon system. Eight dredge samples were recovered from the walls of Wide Bay Canyon and the adjacent, relatively intact continental slope along the entire length of the slope, from the start of the shelf break to the toe, in water depths ranging from 1100-2500 m.

For these samples, sediment composition, biostratigraphic age, and bulk mineralogy data are reported. These slope-forming sediments are primarily comprised of calcareous sandy-silts. Occasional terrestrial plant fossils and minerals can be found in a mostly marine-fossiliferous composition, suggesting minor but significant riverine and aeolian input. Biostratigraphic dates extracted from the foraminiferal contents of these samples indicate that the intra-canyon and slope material was deposited between Middle Miocene to Pliocene, implying that the incision of this section of the margin and formation of the erosional features took place no earlier than the Pliocene. In conjunction with bathymetric data of the local continental slope, the depositional origins of this section of the east Australian continental margin, and the timing of major morphological events such as slope failure and canyon incision can be interpreted.

The Wide Bay Canyon system can serve as a representative case study of local canyon formation, allowing a better understanding of the past or ongoing processes that are shaping the margin and giving way to similar morphologies.