Confinement width and inflow-to-sediment discharge ratio control the morphology and braiding intensity of submarine channels: insights from physical experiments and reduced-complexity models

Sam Y.J. Huang, Steven Y.J. Lai, Ajay B. Limaye, Brady Z. Foreman, Chris Paola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Submarine channels conveying sediment gravity flows are often topographically confined, but the effect of confinement width on channel morphodynamics is incompletely understood. We use physical experiments and a reduced-complexity model to investigate the effects of confinement width (B) and the inflow-to-sediment discharge ratio (Qin/Qs) on the evolution of submarine braided channels. The results show that a larger confinement width results in increased active braiding intensity (BIA) and that BIA takes longer to stabilize (i.e., a longer critical time; tc). At a fixed confinement width, a higher Qin/Qs slightly decreases the BIA. Digital elevation models of difference (DoD) of the experiments allow measurement of the morphological active width (Wa) of the submarine channels and the bulk morphological change (Vbulk) within an experiment, defined as the sum of total erosion and deposition. We find that Wa and Vbulk are proportional to B. We further confirm that BIA is proportional to both dimensionless sediment-stream power (ω∗∗) and dimensionless stream power (ω∗). These trends are consistent for submarine braided channels both with and without confinement width effects. Furthermore, we built a reduced-complexity model (RCM) that can simulate flow bifurcation and confluence of submarine braided channels. The simulated flow distribution provides reliable predictions of flow depth and sediment transport rate in the experiments. Using kernel density estimation (KDE) to forecast the probability and trends of cross-sectional flow distribution and corresponding BIA under extreme events, we find that skewness of the flow distribution decreases as discharge increases. The development of braided submarine channels, shown here to extend to conditions of topographic confinement, suggests that factors not modeled here (e.g., fine sediment) may be necessary to explain the abundance of single-thread submarine channels in nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-632
Number of pages18
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Volume11
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jul 19

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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