Recent geophysical surveys off northern California reveal patterns of gullies on the sea floor and preserved within continental-slope deposits that represent both erosional and aggradational processes. These surveys, conducted as part of the STRATAFORM project, combined multibeam bathymetry and backscatter with high-resolution seismic profiles. These data provide a new basis for evaluating gully morphology, distribution, and their significance to slope sedimentation and evolution. The continental margin off northern California exhibits an upper slope that has undergone both progradation and aggradation. The slope surface, which dips at <2??to 4.0??, contains a set of straight, evenly spaced, and parallel to sub-parallel gullies that begin at the 380-m isobath and extend onto the Eel and Klamath plateaus and into Trinity Canyon. The surface gullies are typically 100-m wide or more and only 1-2 m deep. The gullied slope is underlain by a sedimentary sequence that contains abundant buried gullies to subsurface depths of over 150 m. Although some of the buried gullies are distinctly erosional, most are part of the aggradational pattern responsible for the overall growth of the slope. The latest phase of gully erosion is marked by a gullied surface lying <20 m below the present-day sea floor. These erosional gullies locally truncate individual reflectors, have small depositional levees, and exhibit greater relief than do overlying gullies exposed on the sea floor. The older subsurface gullies document a period of widespread, but minor, erosion and downslope transport, presumably from a large, proximal sediment source. The cycles of downcutting and gully excavation are a minor part of the stratigraphic section, and are likely related to the combined influence of lower sea levels and higher sediment yields. During aggradation of the slope depositional sequences, sediment was draped over the gully features, producing sediment layers that mimic the underlying gully form. Consequently, gully morphology and geometries were preserved and migrated upwards with time. The processes that produce aggraded gully drape also resulted in laterally continuous strata and were most likely related to a period when the sediment source was dispersed from a more distal (10s of km) source, such as during present conditions. The draped sequences also contain a few new gullies, which indicates that gullies can be initiated at all or most stages of slope growth.
Additional publication details
Geometry and significance of stacked gullies on the northern California slope