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Deep-sea channel evolution and stratigraphic architecture from inception to abandonment from high-resolution Autonomous Underwater Vehicle surveys offshore central California



The Lucia Chica channel system is an avulsion belt with four adjacent channels that progressively avulsed to the north-east from a single, upslope feeder channel. Avulsion occurred from underfilled channels, leaving open channels that were reactivated by flows stripped from younger, adjacent channels. Differences in relief (height from channel thalweg to levée crest), sinuosity and levée stratigraphy between adjacent channels correspond to relative channel age, and indicate a change in channel morphology and architecture with time. Potential triggers for the change over time include differences in gradient, flow behaviour and characteristics, and channel evolution. Gradient does not appear to be a major control on channel formation and avulsion because adjacent channels formed on the same gradient. Based on available ultra-high-resolution remote imaging obtained with an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, differences in adjacent channel morphology are interpreted to be primarily a result of differences in channel maturity. The interpreted sequence of channel maturity involves erosional channel inception through scouring and incipient channels (defined by linear trains of scours) prior to development of continuous thalwegs. Channel narrowing, formation and growth of levées, increasing channel relief and development of sinuosity occurred as channels evolved. The evolutionary sequence interpreted from the high-resolution Lucia Chica dataset provides a unique perspective on intrinsic controls of architecture for single channel elements. In addition to helping bridge the gap between outcrop and industry-standard reflection-seismic data resolutions and scopes, interpretations in this study also expose potential problems with hierarchical classifications in three-dimensional imaging of distributary systems, and provide potentially important analogues for evolutionary morphologies not resolved in other deep-water channel systems.