Sediment waves in a modern high-energy glacilacustrine environment



A 4·7 km2 field of sediment waves occurs in front of the Slims River delta in Kluane Lake, the largest lake in the Yukon Territory. Slims River heads in the Kaskawulsh Glacier, part of the St Elias Ice Field and discharges up to 400 m3 s−1 of water with suspended sediment concentrations of up to 7 g l−1. The 19 km long sandur of Slims River was created in the past 400 years since Kaskawulsh Glacier advanced and dammed the lake and the sandur has advanced into Kluane Lake at an average rate of 48 m a−1. However, this rate is decreasing as flow is diverted from Slims River because of the retreat of the Kaskawulsh Glacier. The sandur and a road constructed on the delta remove coarse-grained sediment, so the river delivers dominantly mud to the lake. Inflow during summer generates quasi-continuous turbidity currents with velocities up to 0·6 m s−1. The front of the delta consists of a plane surface sloping lakeward at 0·0188 (1·08°). A field of sediment waves averaging 130 m in length and 2·3 m in amplitude has developed on this surface. Slopes on the waves vary from −0·067 (−3·83°, i.e. sloping in the opposite direction to the regional slope) to 0·135 (7·69°). The internal structure of the sediment waves, as documented by seismic profiling, shows that sedimentation on the stoss portion of the wave averages 2·7 times that on the lee portion. Rates of sediment accumulation in the wave field are about 0·3 m a−1, so these lacustrine waves have formed in a much shorter period of time (less than 200 years) and are advancing upslope towards the delta much more quickly (1 to 2 m a−1) than typical marine sediment waves. These waves formed on the flat surface of the lake floor, apparently in the absence of pre-existing forms, and they are altered and destroyed as the wave field advances and the characteristics of the turbidity currents change.