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The critical role of stratification in submarine channels: Implications for channelization and long runout of flows

Dorrell, R. M.; Darby, S. E.; Peakall, J.; Sumner, E. J.; Parsons, D. R.; Wynn, R. B.


S. E. Darby

J. Peakall

E. J. Sumner

D. R. Parsons

R. B. Wynn


Channelized submarine gravity currents travel remarkable distances, transporting sediment to the distal reaches of submarine fans. However, the mechanisms by which flows can be sustained over these distances remain enigmatic. In this paper we consider two shallow water models the first assumes the flow is unstratified whilst the second uses empirical models to describe vertical stratification, which effects depth averaged mass and momentum transfer. The importance of stratification is elucidated through comparison of modeled flow dynamics. It is found that the vertically stratified model shows the best fit to field data from a channelized field-scale gravity current in the Black Sea. Moreover, the stratified flow is confined by the channel to a much greater degree than the flow in the unstratified model. However, both models fail to accurately represent flow dynamics in the distal end of the system, suggesting current empirical stratification models require improvement to accurately describe field-scale gravity currents. It also highlights the limitations of weakly stratified small-scale experiments in describing field-scale processes. The results suggest that in real-world systems stratification is likely to enable maintenance of velocity and discharge within the channel, thus facilitating sediment suspension over distances of hundreds of kilometers on low seafloor gradients. This explains how flows can travel remarkable distances and transport their sediment to the distal parts of submarine fans.


Dorrell, R. M., Darby, S. E., Peakall, J., Sumner, E. J., Parsons, D. R., & Wynn, R. B. (2014). The critical role of stratification in submarine channels: Implications for channelization and long runout of flows. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 119(4), 2620-2641.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 31, 2014
Online Publication Date Apr 3, 2014
Publication Date 2014-04
Deposit Date Dec 22, 2016
Publicly Available Date Nov 23, 2017
Journal Journal of geophysical research : oceans
Print ISSN 2169-9291
Electronic ISSN 2169-9291
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 119
Issue 4
Pages 2620-2641
Keywords Stratification, Density-driven flow
Public URL
Publisher URL;jsessionid=568AD01DF57BDD220C5A1FADF75DF9F2.f03t03
Additional Information This is a copy of an open access article published in: Journal of geophysical research : oceans, 2014, v.119 issue 4.


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Copyright Statement
© 2014. The Authors.<br /> <br /> This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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