Emplacement of massive turbidites linked to extinction of turbulence in turbidity currents

Mariano I. Cantero, Alessandro Cantelli, Carlos Pirmez, S. Balachandar, David Mohrig, Thomas A. Hickson, Tzu Hao Yeh, Hajime Naruse, Gary Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Submarine turbidity currents are controlled by gravity acting on suspended sediments that pull water downslope along with them. In addition to suspended sediments, turbidity currents also transport sediments at the base of the flow, which causes the reorganization of basal sediments prior to the settling of suspended grains. However, as turbidity currents reach areas with minimal slope, they cross a fall-velocity threshold beyond which the suspended sediments begin to stratify the flow. This process extinguishes the turbulence near the bed. Here we use direct numerical simulation of turbidity currents to show that this extinction of turbulence eliminates the ability of the flow to re-entrain sediment and rework the sediment at the base of the flow. Our simulations indicate that deposits from flows without basal reworking should lack internal structures such as laminations. Under appropriate conditions, then, sustained delivery of fine sediments will therefore result in the emplacement of massive turbidites. We suggest that this mechanism can explain field observations of massive deposits that were emplaced gradually by dilute but powerful turbidity currents. We also conclude that turbulence in submarine turbidity currents is more fragile than river systems, and more sensitive to damping by the stratification of suspended sediment in the flow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-45
Number of pages4
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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