The Mechanics of Marine Sediment Gravity Flows

  1. Charles A. Nittrouer,
  2. James A. Austin,
  3. Michael E. Field,
  4. Joseph H. Kravitz,
  5. James P. M. Syvitski and
  6. Patricia L. Wiberg
  1. Jeffrey D. Parsons1,
  2. Carl T. Friedrichs2,
  3. Peter A. Traykovski3,
  4. David Mohrig4,
  5. Jasim Imran5,
  6. James P. M. Syvitski6,
  7. Gary Parker7,
  8. Pere Puig8,
  9. James L. Buttles4 and
  10. Marcelo H. García7

Published Online: 25 MAR 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9781444304398.ch6

Continental Margin Sedimentation: From Sediment Transport to Sequence Stratigraphy

Continental Margin Sedimentation: From Sediment Transport to Sequence Stratigraphy

How to Cite

Parsons, J. D., Friedrichs, C. T., Traykovski, P. A., Mohrig, D., Imran, J., Syvitski, J. P. M., Parker, G., Puig, P., Buttles, J. L. and García, M. H. (2007) The Mechanics of Marine Sediment Gravity Flows, in Continental Margin Sedimentation: From Sediment Transport to Sequence Stratigraphy (eds C. A. Nittrouer, J. A. Austin, M. E. Field, J. H. Kravitz, J. P. M. Syvitski and P. L. Wiberg), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444304398.ch6

Author Information

  1. 1

    School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

  2. 2

    Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, VA 23062, USA

  3. 3

    Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA

  4. 4

    Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

  5. 5

    Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA

  6. 6

    Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA

  7. 7

    Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA

  8. 8

    Geologia Marina i Oceanografia Fisica, Institut de Ciencies del Mar, Barcelona E-08003, Spain

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 MAR 2009
  2. Published Print: 17 JUL 2007

Book Series:

  1. Special Publication Number 37 of the International Association of Sedimentologists

Book Series Editors:

  1. Ian Jarvis

Series Editor Information

  1. School of Earth Sciences & Geography, Centre for Earth & Environmental Science Research, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames KT1 2EE, UK

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9781405169349

Online ISBN: 9781444304398



  • marine sediment gravity flow mechanics;
  • turbidity currents - dilute, turbulent flows;
  • front dynamics - key role in transport within any gravity current;
  • turbidity-current fans;
  • channelization and channel processes;
  • hydroplaning and submarine debris flows;
  • mathematical simplicity of Bingham model - allowing precise prediction of flow characteristics;
  • wave-supported sediment gravity flows;
  • vertical distribution of momentum and sediment concentration


Sediment gravity flows, particularly those in the marine environment, are dynamically interesting because of the non-linear interaction of mixing, sediment entrainment/suspension and water-column stratification. Turbidity currents, which are strongly controlled by mixing at their fronts, are the best understood mode of sediment gravity flows. The type of mixing not only controls flow and deposition near the front, but also changes the dynamics of turbidity currents flowing in self-formed channels. Debris flows, on the other hand, mix little with ambient fluid. In fact, they have been shown to hydroplane, i.e. glide on a thin film of water. Hydroplaning enables marine debris flows to runout much farther than their subaerial equivalents. Some sediment gravity flows require external energy, from sources such as surface waves. When these flows are considered as stratification-limited turbidity currents, models are able to predict observed downslope sediment fluxes. Most marine sediment gravity flows are supercritical and thus controlled by sediment supply to the water column. Therefore, the genesis of the flows is the key to their understanding and prediction. Virtually every subaqueous failure produces a turbidity current, but they engage only a small percentage of the initially failed material. Wave-induced resuspension can produce and sustain sediment gravity flows. Flooding rivers can also do this, but the complex interactions of settling and turbulence need to be better understood and measured to quantify this effect and document its occurrence. Ultimately, only integrative numerical models can connect these related phenomena, and supply realistic predictions of the marine record.