The development and application of acoustic and optical technologies and of accurate positioning systems in the past 30 years have opened new frontiers in the submarine canyon research communities. This paper reviews several key advancements in both technology and science in the field of currents in submarine canyons since the1979 publication of Currents in Submarine Canyons and Other Sea Valleys by Francis Shepard and colleagues. Precise placements of high-resolution, high-frequency instruments have not only allowed researchers to collect new data that are essential for advancing and generalizing theories governing the canyon currents, but have also revealed new natural phenomena that challenge the understandings of the theorists and experimenters in their predictions of submarine canyon flow fields. Baroclinic motions at tidal frequencies, found to be intensified both up canyon and toward the canyon floor, dominate the flow field and control the sediment transport processes in submarine canyons. Turbidity currents are found to frequently occur in active submarine canyons such as Monterey Canyon. These turbidity currents have maximum speeds of nearly 200 cm/s, much smaller than the speeds of turbidity currents in geological time, but still very destructive. In addition to traditional Eulerian measurements, Lagrangian flow data are essential in quantifying water and sediment transport in submarine canyons. A concerted experiment with multiple monitoring stations along the canyon axis and on nearby shelves is required to characterize the storm-trigger mechanism for turbidity currents.
- Received 2 September 2010.
- Revision received 25 April 2011.
- Accepted 11 May 2011.
- © 2011 Geological Society of America