Crescent-shaped bedforms with wavelengths from 20 to 80 m, amplitudes to 2.5 m, and concave down-canyon crests occur in the axial channel of Monterey Canyon (offshore California, USA) in water depths from 11 to more than 350 m. The existence of these features may be an important new clue as to how sediment moves through submarine canyons. Three complementary studies were initiated in 2007 to understand the origin and evolution of these bedforms. (1) Vibracoring. Three transects of closely spaced remotely operated vehicle–collected vibracores were obtained across these bedforms. The seafloor underneath these features is composed of gravity-flow deposits. (2) Acoustic array. Three boulder-sized concrete monuments containing acoustic beacons were buried just below the surface of the canyon floor in ∼290 m water depth and their locations were redetermined on 17 subsequent occasions. Although the beacons became more deeply buried >0.6 m below the seafloor, they still could be tracked acoustically. Over a 26 month period the position of 1 or more of the beacons moved down-canyon during at least 6 discrete transport events for a total displacement of 994–1676 m. The movement and burial of the monuments suggest that the seabed was mobilized to >1 m depth during gravity-flow events. (3) Autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) repeat mapping. AUV-acquired high-resolution multibeam mapping and CHIRP (compressed high-intensity radar pulse) subbottom profiling surveys of the seafloor in the active channel were repeated four times in the first half of 2007. In addition, the movement of large instrument frames deployed in 2001–2003 within the axis of Monterey Canyon in the area now known to be associated with the crescent-shaped bedforms is documented. The fate of the frames has helped elucidate the frequency, transport potential, and processes occurring within the axis of Monterey Canyon associated with these bedforms. The crescent-shaped bedforms appear to be produced during brief gravity-flow events that occur multiple times each year, commonly coincident with times of large significant wave heights. Whether the bedforms are generated by erosion associated with cyclic steps in turbidity flows or internal deformation associated with slumping during gravity-flow events remains unclear.
- Received 3 June 2009.
- Revision received 16 April 2010.
- Accepted 4 May 2010.
- © Geological Society of America