Migrating sediment waves have been reported in a variety of marine settings, including submarine levee-fan systems, floors of fjords, and other basin or continental slope environments. Examination of such wave fields reveals nine diagnostic characteristics. When these characteristics are applied to several features previously attributed to submarine landslide deformation, they suggest that the features should most likely be reinterpreted as migrating sediment-wave fields. Sites that have been reinterpreted include the 'Humboldt slide' on the Eel River margin in northern California, the continental slope in the Gulf of Cadiz, the continental shelf off the Malaspina Glacier in the Gulf of Alaska, and the Adriatic shelf. A reassessment of all four features strongly suggests that numerous turbidity currents, separated by intervals of ambient hemipelagic sedimentation, deposited the wave fields over thousands of years. A numerical model of hyperpycnal discharge from the Eel River, for example, shows that under certain alongshore-current conditions, such events can produce turbidity currents that flow across the 'Humboldt slide', serving as the mechanism for the development of migrating sediment waves. Numerical experiments also demonstrate that where a series of turbidity currents flows across a rough seafloor (i.e. numerical steps), sediment waves can form and migrate upslope. Hemipelagic sedimentation between turbidity current events further facilitates the upslope migration of the sediment waves. Physical modelling of turbidity currents also confirms the formation and migration of seafloor bedforms. The morphologies of sediment waves generated both numerically and physically in the laboratory bear a strong resemblance to those observed in the field, including those that were previously described as submarine landslides.
Additional publication details
Distinguishing sediment waves from slope failure deposits: Field examples, including the 'humboldt slide', and modelling results