Relationships between morphological and sedimentological parameters in source-to-sink systems: a basis for predicting semi-quantitative characteristics in subsurface systems


Tor O. Sømme, Department of Earth Science, University of Bergen, Allegaten 41, N5007 Bergen, Norway. E-mail:


The study of source-to-sink systems relates long-term variations in sediment flux to morphogenic evolution of erosional–depositional systems. These variations are caused by an intricate combination of autogenic and allogenic forcing mechanisms that operate on multiple time scales – from individual transport events to large-scale filling of basins. In order to achieve a better understanding of how these mechanisms influence morphological characteristics on different scales, 29 submodern source-to-sink systems have been investigated. The study is based on measurements of morphological parameters from catchments, shelves and slopes derived from a ∼1 km global digital elevation model dataset, in combination with data on basin floor fans, sediment supply, water discharge and deposition rates derived from published literature. By comparing various morphological and sedimentological parameters within and between individual systems, a number of relationships governing system evolution and behaviour are identified. The results suggest that the amount of low-gradient floodplain area and river channel gradient are good indicators for catchment storage potential. Catchment area and river channel length is also related to shelf area and shelf width, respectively. Similarly to the floodplain area, these parameters are important for long-term storage of sediment on the shelf platform. Additionally, the basin floor fan area is correlative to the long-term deposition rate and the slope length. The slope length thus proves to be a useful parameter linking proximal and distal segments in source-to-sink systems. The relationships observed in this study provide insight into segment scale development of source-to-sink systems, and an understanding of these relationships in modern systems may result in improved knowledge on internal and external development of source-to-sink systems over geological time scales. They also allow for the development of a set of semi-quantitative guidelines that can be used to predict similar relationships in other systems where data from individual system segments are missing or lacking.