Trapping of sustained turbidity currents by intraslope minibasins

Michael P. Lamb, Horacio Toniolo, Gary Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Depositional turbidity currents have filled many intraslope minibasins with sediment creating targets for petroleum exploration. The dynamics of sustained turbidity currents and their depositional characteristics areinvestigated in a scaled physical model of a minibasin. Each turbidity current deposited a downstream thinning wedge of sediment near the inlet. Farther downstream the turbidity current was ponded by a barrier. The ponded part of the turbidity current was separated from the sediment-free water above by a relatively sharp, horizontal settling interface indicating highly Froudesubcritical flow. The very slow moving flow within the ponded zone created conditions for the passive rainout of suspended sediment onto the bed. In thelower part of the ponded zone, the concentration and mean grain-size of the sediment in suspension tended to be relatively uniform in both the vertical and streamwise directions. As a result, the deposit emplaced in the ponded zone only a weak tendency toward downstream fining and was passively draped over the bed in such a way that irregularities in the inerodible bed were accurately reflected. The discharge of suspended sediment overflowing the downstream end of the minibasin was significantly less than the inflow discharge, resulting in basin sediment trapping efficiencies >95%. A simple model is developed to predict the trapping of sediment within the basin based on the relative magnitudes of the input discharge of turbid water and the detrainment discharge of water across the settling interface. This model shows a limiting case in which an intraslope basin captures 100% of the sediment from a ponded turbidity current, even through a succession of sustained flow events, until sediment deposition raises the settling interface above the downstream lip of the minibasin. This same process defines one of themechanisms for minibasin filling in nature, and, when this mechanism is operative, the trap efficiency of sediment can be expected to be high until the minibasin is substantially filled with sediment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-160
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Froude number
  • Intraslope
  • Minibasin
  • Ponding
  • Turbidite
  • Turbidity current

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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