Despite much practical interest in the problem of sediment transport on the shelf, it is germane to note that we have more information on storms in the deep sea and their effects on suspended sediment transport than we do about the effects of episodic events on continental shelf stratigraphy. We lack knowledge today partially because, until recently, we lacked theoretical models to guide the design and interpretation of a major field study.
The small-scale fabric of shelf sediments and the fine texture of stratigraphy of shallow water sediments have held fascination for marine geologists and stratigraphers alike: Could any of the small-scale fabric be unequivocally related to the forcing function? Major advances in boundary layer theory and in instrumentation over the past decade, coupled with tremendous advances in knowledge about coastal circulation, allow us today to attempt to undertake such a complex question. Issues such as which physical, geological, and biological processes determine bottom roughness at a site and what rates of transport prevail in episodic processes (e.g., storms, surface and internal waves) that dominate sediment movement on the shelf are only now amenable to field testing that is based on recently developed theories.