Submarine turbidity currents create some of the largest sediment accumulations on Earth, yet there are few direct measurements of these flows. Instead, most of our understanding of turbidity currents results from analyzing their deposits in the sedimentary record. However, the lack of direct flow measurements means that there is considerable debate regarding how to interpret flow properties from ancient deposits. This novel study combines detailed flow monitoring with unusually precisely located cores at different heights, and multiple locations, within the Monterey submarine canyon, offshore California, USA. Dating demonstrates that the cores include the time interval that flows were monitored in the canyon, albeit individual layers cannot be tied to specific flows. There is good correlation between grain sizes collected by traps within the flow and grain sizes measured in cores from similar heights on the canyon walls. Synthesis of flow and deposit data suggests that turbidity currents sourced from the upper reaches of Monterey Canyon comprise three flow phases. Initially, a thin (38–50 m) powerful flow in the upper canyon can transport, tilt, and break the most proximal moorings and deposit chaotic sands and gravel on the canyon floor. The initially thin flow front then thickens and deposits interbedded sands and silty muds on the canyon walls as much as 62 m above the canyon floor. Finally, the flow thickens along its length, thus lofting silty mud and depositing it at greater altitudes than the previous deposits and in excess of 70 m altitude.
- Received 24 June 2016.
- Revision received 22 December 2016.
- Accepted 28 December 2016.
- ©The Authors
Gold Open Access: This paper is published under the terms of the CC-BY license.