Quantifying the sedimentology, stratigraphy and morphodynamics of submarine channels
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This dissertation examines how turbidity currents interact with submarine channels. Turbidity currents display exaggerated super-elevation at the outer banks of channel bends, because they have low excess densities relative to the ambient sea-water. Low-velocity zones form where flows separate from the inner banks. In a high-resolution seismic volume, I mapped 226 inclined surfaces associated with bank-attached bars in 16 channel bends of 2 buried sinuous channels. Position and geometries of bars indicate construction from suspended sediment in flow separation zones. Concave-bank benches, first identified in rivers where they are built from fully-suspended sediment deposited within flow separation zones in channel bends, comprise approximately 19% of this dataset. Bars have high median slopes (10°-11°) and occupy less than 30% of channel width. Associated channels migrated a median distance of less than 70% of the channel width and incised 20-30% of the channel depth. These bars are therefore interpreted to have formed during sediment bypass or weak erosion. I have analyzed the sedimentology and stratigraphy of a well-exposed channel complex, in the Permian Brushy Canyon Formation, west Texas. A steeply-inclined set of fine-grained sandstone beds (median dip=10°) at the margin of the channel complex is interpreted as deposits of a bank-attached bar. Beds are characterized by sub- to super-critically climbing ripple-lamination, planar stratification and trough cross-stratification. Paleo-transport directions are at high angles, 20-120°, to the dip azimuths of interpreted bar surfaces. Geometries of bounding surfaces, sedimentation styles and grain-size data were used to construct a facies model for suspension-dominated, bank-attached bars, built within flow-separation zones in submarine channels. I designed physical experiments to examine how erosional turbidity currents evolve channel- bend topography. Time-lapse bathymetry maps capture the evolution of raised benches tied to sedimentation within flow separation zones and erosion outside of separation zones. Erosional currents showed sensitivity to local conditions. The pattern of erosion was connected to roughness elements such as bend curvature and scours on the bed. Turbidity current run-up at the outside of bends produced a greater aerial extent of side-wall erosion than is commonly seen in incisional rivers.