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Rapidly-migrating and internally-generated knickpoints can control submarine channel evolution

Heijnen, Maarten S; Clare, Michael A; Cartigny, Matthieu J B; Talling, Peter J; Hage, Sophie; Lintern, D. Gwyn; Stacey, Cooper; Parsons, Daniel R.; Simmons, Stephen M; Chen, Ye; Sumner, Esther J; Dix, Justin K; Hughes Clarke, John E


Maarten S Heijnen

Michael A Clare

Matthieu J B Cartigny

Peter J Talling

Sophie Hage

D. Gwyn Lintern

Cooper Stacey

Ye Chen

Esther J Sumner

Justin K Dix

John E Hughes Clarke


Submarine channels are the primary conduits for terrestrial sediment, organic carbon, and pollutant transport to the deep sea. Submarine channels are far more difficult to monitor than rivers, and thus less well understood. Here we present 9 years of time-lapse mapping of an active submarine channel along its full length in Bute Inlet, Canada. Past studies suggested that meander-bend migration, levee-deposition, or migration of (supercritical-flow) bedforms controls the evolution of submarine channels. We show for the first time how rapid (100–450 m/year) upstream migration of 5-to-30 m high knickpoints can control submarine channel evolution. Knickpoint migration-related changes include deep (>25 m) erosion, and lateral migration of the channel. Knickpoints in rivers are created by external factors, such as tectonics, or base-level change. However, the knickpoints in Bute Inlet appear internally generated. Similar knickpoints are found in several submarine channels worldwide, and are thus globally important for how channels operate.


Heijnen, M. S., Clare, M. A., Cartigny, M. J. B., Talling, P. J., Hage, S., Lintern, D. G., …Hughes Clarke, J. E. (2020). Rapidly-migrating and internally-generated knickpoints can control submarine channel evolution. Nature communications, 11(1), Article 3129.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 26, 2020
Online Publication Date Jun 19, 2020
Publication Date 2020-12
Deposit Date Jun 8, 2020
Publicly Available Date Dec 20, 2020
Journal Nature Communications
Electronic ISSN 2041-1723
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 11
Issue 1
Article Number 3129
Keywords Geomorphology; Sedimentology
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Received: 15 October 2019; Accepted: 26 May 2020; First Online: 19 June 2020; : The authors declare no competing interests.


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