The Subantarctic Front as a sedimentary conveyor belt for tsunamigenic submarine landslides

Uisdean Nicholson, Simon Libby, David R. Tappin, Dave McCarthy

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The Subantarctic Front (SAF), one of the three main jets of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), flows through a narrow gap in the North Scotia Ridge and then north-westward across the continental slope of Burdwood Bank, ~150 km south of the Falkland Islands. There, the SAF flows across a fold-and-thrust belt caused by oblique convergence at the active plate boundary between the Scotia Plate and South American Plate. We here use regional 2D and 3D seismic reflection data to show the interaction of the associated bottom currents with the active margin, particularly to understand the causes and consequences of a number of large submarine landslides located in the adjacent foredeep. Kinematic indicators from the landslide deposits show that they are derived from a single point source located in an embayment on the northern slope of Burdwood Bank, where we identify a large contourite drift deposit. This drift forms the depositional sink for an along-slope sediment routing system driven by currents associated with the SAF, with sediment being eroded from the Burdwood Terrace, transported ~200 km westward, and plastered against the middle-upper continental slope. The contourite drift is undercut by the core of the current, making the slope inherently unstable in this area. Numerical modelling of the landslides and resultant waves indicates the tsunamigenic potential of these events. Modelled peak wave elevations of up to 40 m inundate the southern coast of the Falklands for a ~100 km3 volume landslide, with a recurrence interval of 1 Ma or less. This research highlights preconditioning mechanisms for submarine failure on continental slopes dominated by strong ocean currents, and specifically, oceanographic controls on the frequency, magnitude and location of submarine landslides associated with contourite systems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106161
JournalMarine Geology
Early online date5 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


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