Suspended-load fallout rate as an independent variable in the analysis of current structures


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    Department of Geology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


The dynamic interpretation of most current-structure sequences derives directly from experiments on the succession of bedforms produced by flows in flumes. The results of these and related studies have been used to construct stability field diagrams in which the fields of individual bedforms are usually expressed as a function of flow intensity (power, velocity, bed shear stress, etc.) and grain size.

The data underlying existing stability-field diagrams were collected largely from the study of flows carrying coarse-grained sediment entrained through particle-by-particle bed erosion. Many flows, however, do not entrain sediment through simple bed erosion. Most turbidity currents originate by the development of turbulence in slumps, slides, and other slope failures. Such flows generally form with highly concentrated suspended loads and their bed-load layers derive sediment from the collapsing suspended-sediment clouds. Because the collapse properties of such clouds may be related as much to suspended particle concentration, size distribution, particle interactions, and other factors as to flow intensity, the stability fields of bedforms developed beneath such flows may differ in flow intensity-grain-size relationships from those beneath flows deriving sediment from bed erosion alone.

Useful stability-field diagrams for turbidity currents must include suspended-load fallout rate as a third variable, independent of flow intensity and mean grain size. A preliminary stability-field diagram of this type indicates that Bouma Tabc sequences may theoretically form with essentially no velocity variation of the attendant flow. This type of analysis may have considerable relevance to the interpretation not only of turbidites but also of other deposits formed where bed-load layers are fed from above rather than below. These include shallow-shelf storm units deposited from highly concentrated flows and volcaniclastic layers formed where pyroclastic debris falls directly into moving water.