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Continental slope-confined canyons in the Pearl River Mouth Basin in the South China Sea dominated by erosion, 2004–2018

Yin, Shaoru, Lin, Lin, Pope, Ed L., Li, Jiabiao, Ding, Weifeng, Wu, Ziyin, Ding, Weiwei, Gao, Jinyao, Zhao, Dineng
Geomorphology 2019 v.344 pp. 60-74
basins, canyons, gas hydrate, geophysics, rivers, sea level, surveys, turbidity, South China Sea
Repeat multibeam bathymetric surveys conducted in 2004, 2005 and 2018 show that seven slope-confined canyons on the continental slope of the Pearl River Mouth Basin, South China Sea, were dominated by large volume, widespread erosion. Erosion volumes were up to 3.4 times greater than deposition volumes. Erosion-dominated areas of the canyons are up to 2.3 times greater than areas dominated by deposition. Average rates of erosion (ranging from 0.7 to 0.8 m/yr) were greater than average rates of deposition (ranging from 0.5 to 0.8 m/yr). In plan view, the erosion-dominated zones exhibit two characteristic shapes: (1) linear, found mainly in upper canyon reaches, distributed predominantly along canyon axes and at the base of eastern canyon walls, and; (2) blocky, found mainly in lower canyon reaches, widely distributed along the steep canyon walls and on lower-canyon interfluves. The deposition-dominated zones are scattered along canyon floors and walls. Seismic reflection data show lateral shifts of canyon fill deposits through time, indicative of longer-term eastward canyon migration. The linear erosion-dominated zones may be attributed to erosive turbidity currents triggered by energetic internal solitary waves shoaling on the shelf. The eastward canyon shifts were likely induced by rapid near-bed eastward currents generated mainly by westward propagating powerful internal solitary waves of depression. The widespread erosion in the deeper canyon areas and interfluves is likely a consequence of slope instabilities associated with the presence of gas hydrates. This study indicates that active sedimentary processes can occur in slope-confined canyons even during sea level highstands. Local, site-specific oceanographic and geological features (e.g., internal solitary waves, gas hydrates) can significantly increase sedimentary activity in and around submarine canyons.