The concavity of modern submarine canyon longitudinal profiles

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Euan Soutter , Ian Kane, David Mark Hodgson , Stephen S. Flint


Submarine canyons incise into continental shelves and slopes, and are important conduits for the transport of sediment, nutrients, organic carbon and pollutants from continents to oceans. Submarine canyons bear morphological similarities to subaerial valleys, such as their longitudinal (long) profiles. Long profiles record the interaction between erosion and uplift, making their shape, or concavity, a record of the environmental and tectonic processes that canyons are subject to. The processes that govern concavity of subaerial valleys and rivers are well-documented on a global-scale, however, the processes that control submarine canyon concavity are less well constrained. We address this problem by utilizing existing geomorphological, tectonic and climatic datasets to measure the long profiles and quantify the concavities of 555 modern submarine canyons. Key results show that: 1) the dominant control on submarine canyon concavity is tectonics, with passive margins hosting the most concave-up profiles, and forearcs hosting the least concave-up profiles; 2) present-day canyon position affects canyon concavity, with river-associated canyons showing greater morphological variance than canyons currently dissociated from rivers; and 3) canyons subject to major Quaternary glacial runoff show increased concavity, suggesting onshore climate affects canyon concavity through sediment supply variation. These results show that tectonic and climatic processes are recorded in the morphologies of submarine canyons on a global-scale, and that many canyons have been slow to respond to sea-level rise since the Last Glacial Maximum.



Earth Sciences, Geology, Geomorphology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Sedimentology


Quaternary, Submarine canyons, longitudinal profiles, concavity, tectonics, sea-level, Quaternary, longitudinal profiles


Published: 2021-04-07 01:48

Last Updated: 2021-04-07 05:48


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data Availability (Reason not available):
Datasets compiled for this study are available in the supplementary files (Tables S1 and S3) and in an online repository (Tables S1 to S3; Source data is available from Harris and Whiteway (2011) (original submarine canyon data), Nyberg et al. (2018) (geomorphological, tectonic & climatic data), Kottek et al. (2006) (Koppen climate zones), Fick and Hijmans (2017) (precipitation data), Zomer et al. (2008), (aridity index), Giardini et al. (1999) (onshore seismicity), and Amanke and Eakins (2009) (bathymetry).

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