Challenging the highstand-dormant paradigm for land-detached submarine canyons

Maarten Heijnen (Lead Author), Furu Mienis, Andrew Gates, Brian Bett, Rob Hall, James Hunt, Ian Kane, Corrine Pebody, Veerle Huvenne, Euan Soutter, Michael Clare (Lead Author)

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Sediment, nutrients, organic carbon and pollutants are funnelled down submarine canyons from continental shelves by sediment-laden flows called turbidity currents, which dominate particulate transfer to the deep sea. Post-glacial sea-level rise disconnected more than three quarters of the > 9000 submarine canyons worldwide from their former river or long-shore drift sediment inputs. Existing models therefore assume that land-detached submarine canyons are dormant in the present-day; however, monitoring has focused on land-attached canyons and this paradigm remains untested. Here we present the most detailed field measurements yet of turbidity currents within a land-detached submarine canyon, documenting a remarkably similar frequency (6 yr− 1) and speed (up to 5–8 ms− 1) to those in large land-attached submarine canyons. Major triggers such as storms or earthquakes are not required; instead, seasonal variations in cross-shelf sediment transport explain temporal-clustering of flows, and why the storm season is surprisingly absent of turbidity currents. As > 1000 other canyons have a similar configuration, we propose that contemporary deep-sea particulate transport via such land detached canyons may have been dramatically under-estimated.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3448
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2022

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