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Detailed monitoring reveals the nature of submarine turbidity currents

Talling, Peter J.; Cartigny, Matthieu; Pope, Ed; Baker, Megan; Clare, Michael; Hage, Sophie; Heijnen, Maarten; Parsons, Dan R.; Simmons, Steve M.; Paull, Charles; Gwiazda, Roberto; Lintern, Gwyn; Hughes Clarke, John; Xu, Jingping; Silva Jacinto, Ricardo; Maier, Katherine L.


Peter J. Talling

Matthieu Cartigny

Ed Pope

Megan Baker

Michael Clare

Sophie Hage

Maarten Heijnen

Dan R. Parsons

Charles Paull

Roberto Gwiazda

Gwyn Lintern

John Hughes Clarke

Jingping Xu

Ricardo Silva Jacinto

Katherine L. Maier


Seafloor sediment flows, called turbidity currents, form the largest sediment accumulations, deepest canyons and longest channels on Earth. It was once thought that turbidity currents were impractical to measure in action, especially given their ability to damage sensors in their path, but direct monitoring since the mid-2010s has measured them in detail. In this Review, we summarize knowledge of turbidity currents gleaned from this direct monitoring. Monitoring identifies triggering mechanisms from dilute river plumes, and shows how rapid sediment accumulation can precondition slope failure, but the final triggers can be delayed and subtle. Turbidity currents are consistently more frequent than predicted by past sequence-stratigraphic models, including at sites >300 km from any coast. Faster flows (more than ~1.5 m s–1) are driven by a dense near-bed layer at their front, whereas slower flows are entirely dilute. This frontal layer sometimes erodes large (>2.5 km3) volumes of sediment, yet maintains a near-uniform speed, leading to a travelling-wave model. Monitoring shows that flows sculpt canyons and channels through fast-moving knickpoints, and shows how deposits originate. Emerging technologies with reduced cost and risk can lead to widespread monitoring of turbidity currents, so their sediment and carbon fluxes can be compared with other major global transport processes.


Talling, P. J., Cartigny, M., Pope, E., Baker, M., Clare, M., Hage, S., …Maier, K. L. (2023). Detailed monitoring reveals the nature of submarine turbidity currents. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 12, 2023
Online Publication Date Aug 8, 2023
Publication Date Jan 1, 2023
Deposit Date Jul 13, 2023
Publicly Available Date Aug 9, 2023
Journal Nature Reviews Earth and Environment
Electronic ISSN 2662-138X
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Public URL


Accepted manuscript (2.5 Mb)

Copyright Statement
Talling, P.J., Cartigny, M.J.B., Pope, E. et al. Detailed monitoring reveals the nature of submarine turbidity currents. Nat Rev Earth Environ (2023). This version of the article has been accepted for publication, after peer review (when applicable) and is subject to Springer Nature’s AM terms of use, but is not the Version of Record and does not reflect post-acceptance improvements, or any corrections. The Version of Record is available online at:

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