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Newly recognized turbidity current structure can explain prolonged flushing of submarine canyons

Azpiroz-Zabala, Maria; Cartigny, Matthieu J. B.; Talling, Peter J.; Parsons, Daniel R.; Sumner, Esther J.; Clare, Michael A.; Simmons, Stephen M.; Cooper, Cortis; Pope, Ed L.

Abstract

Seabed-hugging flows called turbidity currents are the volumetrically most important process transporting sediment across our planet and form its largest sediment accumulations. We seek to understand the internal structure and behavior of turbidity currents by reanalyzing the most detailed direct measurements yet of velocities and densities within oceanic turbidity currents, obtained from weeklong flows in the Congo Canyon. We provide a new model for turbidity current structure that can explain why these are far more prolonged than all previously monitored oceanic turbidity currents, which lasted for only hours or minutes at other locations. The observed Congo Canyon flows consist of a short-lived zone of fast and dense fluid at their front, which outruns the slower moving body of the flow. We propose that the sustained duration of these turbidity currents results from flow stretching and that this stretching is characteristic of mud-rich turbidity current systems. The lack of stretching in previously monitored flows is attributed to coarser sediment that settles out from the body more rapidly. These prolonged seafloor flows rival the discharge of the Congo River and carry ~2% of the terrestrial organic carbon buried globally in the oceans each year through a single submarine canyon. Thus, this new structure explains sustained flushing of globally important amounts of sediment, organic carbon, nutrients, and fresh water into the deep ocean.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Oct 4, 2017
Journal Science Advances
Electronic ISSN 2375-2548
Publisher American Association for the Advancement of Science
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Volume 3
Issue 10
Article Number ARTN e1700200
Pages e1700200
DOI https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1700200
Keywords Turbidity currents; Sediment transport; Carbon cycling
Publisher URL http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/10/e1700200
Copyright Statement Copyright © 2017 The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works. Distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CC BY).

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