A series of subparallel, downslope-trending gullies on the northern California continental slope is revealed on high-resolution seismic reflection profiles imaging the uppermost 50 m of sediment. The gullies are typically 100 m wide and have 1 to 3 m of relief. They extend for 10 to 15 km down the slope and merge into larger channels that feed the Trinity Canyon. In the lower half of the 50 m stratigraphic section, the gullies increase in both relief and number up section, to maxima at a surface 5 to 10 m below the last glacial maximum lowstand surface. Gully relief increased as interfluves aggraded more rapidly than thalwegs. Erosion is not evident in the gully bottoms, therefore gully growth was probably due to reduced sediment deposition within the gullies relative to that on interfluves. As the gullies increased in relief, their heads extended upslope toward the shelfbreak. At all times, a minimum of 10 km of non-gullied upper slope and shelf stretched between the heads of the gullies and the paleo-shoreline; the gullies did not connect with a subaerial drainage network at any time. Gully growth occurred when the gully heads were in relatively shallow water (??? 200 m paleo-water depth) and were closest to potential sediment sources. We suggest that prior to the last glacial maximum, the Mad River, then within 10 km of the gully heads, supplied sediment to the upper slope, which fed downslope-eroding sediment flows. These flows removed sediment from nearly parallel gullies at a rate slightly slower than sediment accumulation from the Eel River, 40 km to the south. The process or processes responsible for gully growth and maintenance prior to the last glacial maximum effectively ceased following the lowstand, when sea level rose and gully heads lay in deeper water (??? 300 m water depth), farther from potential sediment sources. During sea-level highstand, the Mad River is separated from the gully heads by a shelf 30 km wide and no longer feeds sediment flows down the gullies, which fill with sediment from the distal Eel River. Approximately one-half of the subsurface gullies have no expression on the seafloor, because they have completely filled with sediment following the last glacial maximum lowstand of sea level. Copyright ?? 2001, SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology).
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Evolution of continental slope gullies on the northern california margin