Controls on plan-form evolution of submarine channels
Abstract:Vertically aggrading sinuous channels constitute a basic building block of modern submarine fans and the greater continental slope. Interpretation of seismically imaged channels reveals a significant diversity in internal architecture, as well as important similarities and differences in the evolution of submarine channels relative to better studied rivers. Many submarine channel cross sections possess a ‘gull wing’ shape. Successive stacking of such channels demonstrates that systematic bank erosion is not required in order for lateral migration to occur. The lateral shift of such aggrading channels, however, is expected to be much less dynamic than in the case of terrestrial rivers. Recent high-resolution 3D seismic data from offshore Angola and an upstream segment of the Bengal Submarine Fan show intensely meandering channels that experience considerable lateral shifting during periods of active migration within submarine valleys. The cross sections of the actively migrating channels are similar to meandering river channels characterized by an outer cut-bank and inner-bank accretion.
In submarine channels, the orientation of the secondary flow can be river-like or river-reverse depending on the channel gradient, cross sectional shape, and the adaptation length of the channel bend. In river channels, a single circulation cell commonly occupies the entire channel relief, redistributing the bed-load sediment across the channel, and influencing the thread of high velocity and thus the plan-form evolution of the channel. In submarine environments, the height of the circulation cell will be significantly smaller than channel relief, thus leading to development of lower relief point bars from bed-load transport. Nevertheless these “underfit” bars may play an important role in plan-form evolution of submarine channels.
In rivers and submarine channels, the inclined surface accretion can be constructed via pure bed-load, suspended-load, or a combination of both transport types. The in-channel suspended-load deposition occurs at sites of flow separation along the inner banks of bends. The relative contribution of inner-bank deposition from bed-load versus suspended load affects the plan-form evolution of both river and submarine channels.