Marine Science Faculty Publications

Increased Marine Sediment Suspension and Fluxes Following an Earthquake

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Earthquakes are commonly cited as one possible triggering mechanism for turbidity flows - dense sediment-water plumes that can transport large volumes of sediment great distances clown slope - in both marine and lacustrine settings. Heezen and Ewing were the first to make such a suggestion, attributing breaks in a sea-floor telephone cable in the North Atlantic Ocean to turbidity flows generated by the 1929 Grand Banks earthquake. A number of workers have consequently used sedimentary turbidite records to reconstruct the earthquake histories of various regions. Here we present direct observations of a seismically induced turbidity flow. Measurements of light scattering and sediment fluxes in the Cariaco basin indicate that the earthquake that occurred along the coast of northern Venezuela on 9 July 1997 resulted in considerable downslope displacement of sediments - probably > 105 tonnes into the deep part of the basin. In such a seismically active region, this mechanism of sediment transport may be responsible for a significant component of the long-term sediment accumulation in the basin. Furthermore, this process may result in the sequestration in deep sea sediments of large amounts of carbon initially deposited at shallow depths.

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Nature, v. 398, issue 6724, p. 233-234