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Keywords:

  • Continental margin;
  • sediments;
  • slope processes;
  • debris flow;
  • turbidity current;
  • bottom current

Summary

The north-east Atlantic continental margin displays a wide range of sediment transport systems with both along-slope and down-slope processes. Off most of the north-west African margin, south of 26°N, upwelling produces elevated accumulation rates, although there is little fluvial input. This area is subject to infrequent but large-scale mass movements, giving rise to debris flows and turbidity currents. The turbidity currents traverse the slope and deposit thick layers on the abyssal plains, while debris flows deposit on the continental slope and rise. From the Atlas Mountains northwards to 56°N, the margin is less prone to mass movements, but is cut by a large number of canyons, which also funnel turbidity currents to the abyssal plains. The presence of a lithospheric plate boundary off SW Iberia is believed to have led to high rates of sediment transport to the deep sea. Even larger quantities of coarse sediments have fed the canyons and abyssal plains in the Bay of Biscay as a result of drainage from melting icecaps. Bottom currents have built sediment waves off the African and Iberian margins, and created erosional furrows south of the Canaries. The Mediterranean outflow is a particularly strong bottom current near the Straits of Gibraltar, depositing sand waves and mud waves in the Gulf of Cadiz. North of 56°N, the margin is heavily influenced by glacial and glaciomarine processes active during glacial times, which built glacial trough-mouth fans, such as the North Sea Fan, and left iceberg scour marks on the upper slope and shelf. Over a long period, especially during interglacials, this part of the margin has been greatly affected by along-slope currents, with less effect by turbidity currents than on the lower latitude margins. Large-scale mass movements are again a prominent feature, particularly off Norway and the Faeroes. Some of these mass movements have occurred during the Holocene, although high glacial sedimentation rates may have contributed to the instability.