The Hydraulic Interpretation of Turbidites from their Grain Sizes and Sedimentary Structures

  1. Dorrik A. V. Stow
  1. Paul D. Komar

Published Online: 29 APR 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9781444304473.ch3

Deep-Water Turbidite Systems

Deep-Water Turbidite Systems

How to Cite

Komar, P. D. (1991) The Hydraulic Interpretation of Turbidites from their Grain Sizes and Sedimentary Structures, in Deep-Water Turbidite Systems (ed D. A. V. Stow), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444304473.ch3

Editor Information

  1. Department of Geology, University of Southampton, UK

Author Information

  1. College of Oceanography, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 29 APR 2009
  2. Published Print: 11 NOV 1991

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780632032624

Online ISBN: 9781444304473



  • Capistrano formation;
  • Bouma structures;
  • bimodality, apparent in sieving distribution;
  • ‘limit deposit velocity’;
  • suspension and turbulence effects on grain settling rates


Previous attempts to deduce the flow parameters of turbidity currents from their deposited sediments have focused on applications of criteria for the suspension or autosuspension of the grains and on hydrodynamic interpretations of the characteristic Bouma sequence of sedimentary structures. There has been a considerable diversity of opinion, however, as to how the transport criteria relate to the observed deposited grain-size distribution, and no attempt has been made to determine whether the separate analyses of deposited sediments and sedimentary structures agree as to the magnitudes of the evaluated flow parameters.

Such analyses are performed on a turbidite from the Capistrano Formation (Miocene-Pliocene) of California. This turbidite is normally graded from medium sand at its base to very fine sand and silt at the top, and has the complete sequence of Bouma structures. Only a small degree of cementation has occurred so that samples from the layer could be disaggregated and grain sizes determined both by sieving and sedimentation balance analyses.

It was decided to employ the grain-suspension criterion for the calculation of the flow conditions at the time of deposition, published experiments on the pipe-flow of suspensions having demonstrated that this criterion is one of deposition versus non-deposition of grains according to their settling velocities. The published work relating types of sedimentary structures to the sediment grain size and either the flow power or Shield's dimensionless stress is used to evaluate the flow parameters from the observed Bouma sequence. All methods employed yield estimates of the mean flow velocity and bed stress (force per unit bottom area).

The evaluated flow parameters for the transition from a flat bed to ripples (Bouma B to C divisions) are nearly an order of magnitude greater than obtained from the grain-suspension criterion where the calculations are based on the median grain size of the deposited sediments. Agreement results only if the calculations utilizing the suspension criterion are based on nearly the coarsest grains deposited at any instant, a procedure that is difficult to justify with the expected sediment deposition from a waning current. Inclusion of other factors, such as possible lags in sediment deposition or ripple formation beneath the decelerating flow, provide no firm explanation as to the cause of the discrepancy between the results based on the two approaches, and in nearly all cases their inclusion would increase the difference. Something is amiss with our procedures for the hydraulic interpretation of sediments which can be resolved only by further study.