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USGS - science for a changing world

Elisabeth Steel

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Although sea-level highstands are typically associated with sediment-starved continental shelves, high sea level does not hinder major river floods. Turbidity currents generated by plunging of sediment-laden rivers at the fluvial-marine interface, known as hyperpycnal flows, allow for cross-shelf transport of suspended sand beyond the coastline. Hyperpycnal flows in southern California have deposited six subaqueous fans on the shelf of the northern Santa Barbara Channel in the Holocene. Using eight cores and nine grab samples, we describe the deposits, age, and stratigraphic architecture of two fans in the Santa Barbara Channel. Fan lobes have up to 3 m of relief and are composed of multiple hyperpycnite beds ∼5...
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Hyperpycnal gravity currents rapidly transport sediment across shore from rivers to the continental shelf and deep sea. Although these geophysical processes are important sediment dispersal mechanisms, few distinct geomorphic features on the continental shelf can be attributed to hyperpycnal flows. Here we provide evidence of large depositional features derived from hyperpycnal plumes on the continental shelf of the northern Santa Barbara Channel, California, from the combination of new sonar, lidar, and seismic reflection data. These data reveal lobate fans directly offshore of the mouths of several watersheds known to produce hyperpycnal concentrations of suspended sediment. The fans occur on an upwardly concave...
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