Distributary Channels, Sand Lobes, and Mesotopography of Navy Submarine Fan, Californian Borderland, with Applications to Ancient Fan Sediments

  1. Dorrik A. V. Stow
  1. William R. Normark1,
  2. D. J. W. Piper1 and
  3. Gordon R. Hess1,2

Published Online: 29 APR 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9781444304473.ch35

Deep-Water Turbidite Systems

Deep-Water Turbidite Systems

How to Cite

Normark, W. R., Piper, D. J. W. and Hess, G. R. (1991) Distributary Channels, Sand Lobes, and Mesotopography of Navy Submarine Fan, Californian Borderland, with Applications to Ancient Fan Sediments, in Deep-Water Turbidite Systems (ed D. A. V. Stow), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444304473.ch35

Editor Information

  1. Department of Geology, University of Southampton, UK

Author Information

  1. 1

    U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Ca 94025, USA

  2. 2

    Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Publication History

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

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780632032624

Online ISBN: 9781444304473



  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography;
  • flute-shaped scours;
  • deep-tow side-scanning sonar;
  • sub-bottom reflectors;
  • gravel and sand, occurring in upper valley


The deep-tow instrument package of Scripps Institution of Oceanography provides a unique opportunity to delineate small-scale features of a size comparable to those features usually described from ancient deep-sea fan deposits. On Navy Fan, the deep-tow side-scanning sonar readily detected steep channel walls and steps and terraces within channels. The most striking features observed in side-scan are large crescentic depressions commonly occurring in groups. These appear to be large scours or flutes carved by turbidity currents. Four distinct acoustic facies were mapped on the basis of qualitative assessment of reflectivity of 4 kHz reflection profiles. There is a distinct increase in depth of acoustic penetration, number of sub-bottom reflectors, and reflector continuity from the upper fan-valley to the lower fan. These changes are accompanied by a decrease in surface relief.

Navy Fan is made up of three active sectors. The active upper fan is dominated by a single channel with prominent levees that decrease in height downstream. The active mid-fan region or suprafan is where sand is deposited. Well defined distributary channels with steps, terraces, and other mesotopography terminate in depositional lobes. Interchannel areas are rough, containing giant scours as well as other relief. The active lower fan accumulates mud and silt and is without resolvable surface morphology.

The morphological features seen on Navy Fan other than levees, interchannel areas, and lobes are principally erosional. The distributary channels are up to 0.5 km wide and 5–15 m deep. Such features, because of their large size and low relief, are rarely completely exposed or easily detectable in ancient rock sequences. Some flute-shaped scours are larger than channels in cross section but many are 5–30 m across and 1–2 m deep. If observed in ancient rocks transverse to palaeo-current direction, they would perhaps be indistinguishable from channels. Surface sediment distribution combined with fan morphology can be used to relate modern sediments to facies models for ancient fan sediments. Gravel and sand occur in the upper valley, massive sand beds in the mid-fan distributary channels, classical complete Bouma sequences on depositional lobes, incomplete Bouma sequences (lacking division a) on the lower mid-fan, and Bouma sequence with lenticular shape or other limited extent on mid-fan interchannel areas and on levees.