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The U.S. Geological Survey has a long history of exploring marine geology in the Gulf of Alaska. As part of a cooperative program with other federal and state agencies, the USGS is investigating the relations between ocean-floor geology and benthic marine biohabitats. This bottom sediment map, compiled from published literature will help marine biologists develop an understanding of sea-floor geology in relation to various biological habitats.
The pattern of sea-floor sedimentation and bottom morphology in the Gulf of Alaska reflects a complex interplay of regional tectonism, glacial advances and retreats, oceanic and tidal currents, waves, storms, eustatic change, and gravity-driven processes. This map, based on numerous cruises during the period of 1970-1996, shows distribution of bottom sediments in areas of study on the continental shelf. The samples were collected with piston, box, and gravity corers, and grab samplers. The interpretations of sediment distribution are the products of sediment size analyses combined with interpretations of high-resolution seismic reflection profiles.
The sea floor was separated into several areas as follows:
Cook Inlet -- Hazards studies in this embayment emphasized sediment distribution, sediment dynamics, bedforms, shallow faults, and seafloor stability. Migrating mega-sandwaves, driven by strong tidal currents, influence seabed habitats and stability of the seafloor, especially near pipelines and drilling platforms. The coarseness of the bottom sediment reinforces the influence of the strong tidal currents on the seafloor habitats.
Kodiak Shelf -- Tectonic framework studies demonstrate the development of an accretionary wedge as the Pacific Plate underthrusts the Alaskan landmass. Seismic data across the accretionary wedge reveal anomalies indicative of fluid/gas vent sites in this segment of the continental margin. Geologic hazards research shows that movement along numerous shallow faults poses a risk to sea floor structures. Sea-floor sediment on shallow banks is eroded by seasonal wave-generated currents. The winnowing action of the large storm waves results in concentrations of gravel over broad segments of the Kodiak shelf.
Northeastern Gulf of Alaska -- Tectonic framework studies demonstrate that rocks of distant origin (Yakutat terrane) are currently attached to and moving with the Pacific Plate, as it collides with and is subducted beneath southern Alaska. This collision process has led to pronounced structural deformation of the continental margin and adjacent southern Alaska. Consequences include rapidly rising mountains and high fluvial and glacial sedimentation rates on the adjacent margin and ocean floor. The northeastern Gulf of Alaska shelf also has concentrations of winnowed (lag) gravel on Tarr Bank and on the outer shelf southeast of Yakutat Bay. Between Kayak Island and Yakutat Bay the outer shelf consists of pebbly mud (diamict). This diamict is a product of glacial marine sedimentation during the Pleistocene and is present today as a relict sediment. A prograding wedge of Holocene sediment consisting of nearshore sand grading seaward into clayey silt and silty clay covers the relict pebbly mud to mid-shelf and beyond. Shelf and slope channel systems transport glacially derived sediment across the continental margin into Surveyor Channel, an abyssal fan and channel system that reaches over 1,000 km to the Aleutian Trench.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Map of Distribution of Bottom Sediments on the Continental Shelf, Gulf of Alaska