Controls on submarine channel-modifying processes identified through morphometric scaling relationships





Submarine channels share morphological similarities with rivers, but observations from modern and ancient systems indicate they are formed under processes and controls unique to submarine settings. Morphologic characteristics of channels—e.g., width, depth, slope, and the relationships among them—can constrain interpretations of channel-forming processes. This work uses morphometric scaling relationships extracted from high-resolution seafloor bathymetry to infer connections between morphology and process in submarine channels. Analysis of 36 modern channels in five geographic regions shows that channel widths vary regionally (from <100 m to >10 km wide) but occupy the same range of aspect ratios (~10:1–100:1). This suggests an autogenic control on aspect ratio, perhaps resulting from feedback processes in levee growth and/or bank erosion, and allogenic (e.g., sediment supply, grain size) controls on channel width. Submarine channel aspect ratios tend to decrease with increasing dimensions, while the opposite relationship has been observed for fluvial channels, likely due to opposing relationships between flow discharge and channel distance. Additionally, observation of an apparent lag between channel thalweg and levee responses to gradient changes suggests that thalweg and levee deposition and erosion may be partially decoupled due to the vertical structure of turbidity currents, with thalweg evolution driven by the basal, higher-shear-stress portion of the flow and levee evolution by the dilute upper portion. The data presented here provide a basis for predicting channel metrics in exploration scenarios, in which data coverage may be sparse. This documentation of a diverse suite of channels also captures the range of scales and variability exhibited globally by sub­marine channel systems, providing context for local studies.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Controls on submarine channel-modifying processes identified through morphometric scaling relationships
Series title:
Online First
Year Published:
Geologic Society of America
Contributing office(s):
Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Science Center