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Direct monitoring reveals initiation of turbidity currents from extremely dilute river plumes

Hage, Sophie; Cartigny, Matthieu J.B.; Sumner, Esther J.; Clare, Michael A.; Hughes Clarke, John E.; Talling, Peter J.; Lintern, D. Gwyn; Simmons, Stephen M.; Silva Jacinto, Ricardo; Vellinga, Age J.; Allin, Joshua R.; Azpiroz‐Zabala, Maria; Gales, Jenny A.; Hizzett, Jamie L.; Hunt, James E.; Mozzato, Alessandro; Parsons, Daniel R.; Pope, Ed L.; Stacey, Cooper D.; Symons, William O.; Vardy, Mark E.; Watts, Camilla


Sophie Hage

Matthieu J.B. Cartigny

Esther J. Sumner

Michael A. Clare

John E. Hughes Clarke

Peter J. Talling

D. Gwyn Lintern

Ricardo Silva Jacinto

Age J. Vellinga

Joshua R. Allin

Maria Azpiroz‐Zabala

Jenny A. Gales

Jamie L. Hizzett

James E. Hunt

Alessandro Mozzato

Ed L. Pope

Cooper D. Stacey

William O. Symons

Mark E. Vardy

Camilla Watts


Rivers (on land) and turbidity currents (in the ocean) are the most important sediment transport processes on Earth. Yet how rivers generate turbidity currents as they enter the coastal ocean remains poorly understood. The current paradigm, based on laboratory experiments, is that turbidity currents are triggered when river plumes exceed a threshold sediment concentration of ~1 kg/m3. Here we present direct observations of an exceptionally dilute river plume, with sediment concentrations 1 order of magnitude below this threshold (0.07 kg/m3), which generated a fast (1.5 m/s), erosive, short‐lived (6 min) turbidity current. However, no turbidity current occurred during subsequent river plumes. We infer that turbidity currents are generated when fine sediment, accumulating in a tidal turbidity maximum, is released during spring tide. This means that very dilute river plumes can generate turbidity currents more frequently and in a wider range of locations than previously thought.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Nov 19, 2019
Journal Geophysical Research Letters
Print ISSN 0094-8276
Electronic ISSN 1944-8007
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 46
Issue 20
Pages 11310-11320
APA6 Citation Hage, S., Cartigny, M. J., Sumner, E. J., Clare, M. A., Hughes Clarke, J. E., Talling, P. J., …Watts, C. (2019). Direct monitoring reveals initiation of turbidity currents from extremely dilute river plumes. Geophysical research letters, 46(20), 11310-11320.
Keywords General Earth and Planetary Sciences; Geophysics
Additional Information Received: 2019-07-16; Accepted: 2019-09-02; Published: 2019-09-13


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