The importance of breaching as a mechanism of subaqueous slope failure in fine sand

Authors

  • Jan H. Van Den Berg,

    1. * Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, PO Box 80115, 3508TC Utrecht, The Netherlands (E-mail: r.vandenberg@geog.uu.nl), †Department of Marine and Coastal Management, Delft Hydraulics, PO Box 177, 2600MH Delft, The Netherlands
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  • André Van Gelder,

    1. * Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, PO Box 80115, 3508TC Utrecht, The Netherlands (E-mail: r.vandenberg@geog.uu.nl), †Department of Marine and Coastal Management, Delft Hydraulics, PO Box 177, 2600MH Delft, The Netherlands
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  • Dick R. Mastbergen

    1. * Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, PO Box 80115, 3508TC Utrecht, The Netherlands (E-mail: r.vandenberg@geog.uu.nl), †Department of Marine and Coastal Management, Delft Hydraulics, PO Box 177, 2600MH Delft, The Netherlands
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Abstract

Large bank failures, comprising up to 106 m3 of sediment, are common features along steep channel banks in estuaries and large rivers that consist of clean, fine sands, and are mostly assumed to be generated by sudden liquefaction of large masses of very loosely packed sand. Another less commonly recognized type of failure is manifested by the gradual retrogression of a very steep wall, steeper than the angle-of-repose. Instead of the voluminous surging plastic sediment-water flow, or hyperconcentrated density flow (sensu Mulder & Alexander, 2001) generated by liquefaction, this type of failure, known as breaching by dredging companies and hydraulic engineers, produces a sustained quasi-steady, turbidity current. To date, sedimentologists have not recognized the process of breaching as such. In this paper, it is suggested that breaching may be the origin of many thick, massive sand layers known from ancient deposits from various environments, notably in some turbidite successions. Possible differences in the sedimentary structure of the deposits produced by breach failures vs. liquefaction slope failures (=liquefaction flow slides) can be deduced from a knowledge of the sediment transport processes initiated by the failure. A field study is presented on some poorly structured beds in the Eocene Vlierzele Sands in Belgium, which are supposed to have originated from liquefaction failures, but are reinterpreted to be the products of breaching. It is postulated that the local steep slope disturbance required to initiate an active breach can be produced by a small liquefaction slope failure (=liquefaction flow slide failure) or local erosion by river or tidal channel flow at the initial stage of the failure event.

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