Submarine landslides can generate sediment-laden flows whose scale is impressive. Individual flow deposits have been mapped that extend for 1,500 km offshore from northwest Africa(1-7). These are the longest run-out sediment density flow deposits yet documented on Earth. This contribution analyses one of these deposits, which contains ten times the mass of sediment transported annually by all of the world's rivers(8). Understanding how this type of submarine flow evolves is a significant problem, because they are extremely difficult to monitor directly(9). Previous work has shown how progressive disintegration of landslide blocks can generate debris flow, the deposit of which extends downslope from the original landslide(10) (10-13). We provide evidence that submarine flows can produce giant debris flow deposits that start several hundred kilometres from the original landslide, encased within deposits of a more dilute flow type called turbidity current. Very little sediment was deposited across the intervening large expanse of sea floor, where the flow was locally very erosive. Sediment deposition was finally triggered by a remarkably small but abrupt decrease in sea-floor gradient from 0.05 degrees to 0.01 degrees. This debris flow was probably generated by flow transformation from the decelerating turbidity current. The alternative is that non-channelized debris flow left almost no trace of its passage across one hundred kilometres of flat (0.2 degrees to 0.05 degrees) sea floor. Our work shows that initially well-mixed and highly erosive submarine flows can produce extensive debris flow deposits beyond subtle slope breaks located far out in the deep ocean.
Talling, P. J., Wynn, R. B., Masson, D. G., Frenz, M., Cronin, B. T., Schiebel, R., ... Amy, L. A. (2007). Onset of submarine debris flow deposition far from original giant landslide. Nature, 450(7169), 541-544. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06313