Signal Preservation in Pulsing Turbidity Current Deposits

Monday, 15 December 2014
Gareth M Keevil1, Robert Michael Dorrell2 and William D McCaffrey2, (1)University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2, United Kingdom, (2)University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
Recent debate has focused on the potential preservation of the signal of seismic events in the sedimentary record via the initiation of large-scale turbidity current flows. The failure of a seismic zone lying across a series of submarine canyon systems may initiate multiple linked turbidity currents from each canyon head. Such events can be distinguished from locally triggered turbidity currents by their deposits. Canyon systems may be expected to become progressively interconnected with depth. Differing run out times of each interconnected channel is expected to result in pulsing flow behavior, a key feature of such turbidity currents. Thus, cyclical waxing to waning flow behavior preserved in the rock record may be a key indicator of a large-scale seismic trigger.

Novel experimental research is presented that explores the dynamics of pulsed turbidity currents. The experimental study is used to quantitatively examine controls on the time and length scale of signal preservation in pulsing density driven flows. The experiments consisted of a multi gate lock box, with the gates remotely operated by pneumatic rams. Gate timers allow for accurate experimental repeatability and a careful investigation of the effect of time spacing between flows on pulsing flow dynamics. Parameters investigated include volumes of material released, effective flow density and viscosity (as a proxy of flow mud content). Full flow field visualization was made using an array of interlinked HD cameras. Dyeing separate components of the flow different colors enabled detailed analysis of flow dynamic behavior occurring between head and tail. The secondary pulsing flow was seen to rapidly overtake the first flow. Observations of flow velocity and density suggested that due to stratification the secondary flow was travelling along the density interface between the main body of the primary flow and its turbulent wake.

As the pulsing flows created in the laboratory experiments rapidly merged, it suggests that it is difficult to preserve pulsing signals of interacting turbidity currents over long run out distance or times. However, these initial experiments have been carried out with solute currents on flat slopes. Particulate currents travelling over a pronounced gradient may have a significantly different signal preservation behavior.