Role of dense shelf water in the development of Antarctic submarine canyon morphology

Gales, J.; Rebesco, M.; De Santis, L.; Bergamasco, A.; Colleoni, F.; Kim, S.; Accettella, D.; Kovacevic, V.; Liu, Y.; Olivo, E.; Colizza, E.; Florindo Lopez, C.; Zgur, F.; McKay, R.. 2021 Role of dense shelf water in the development of Antarctic submarine canyon morphology. Geomorphology, 372, 107453.

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Increased ocean heat supply to the Antarctic continental shelves is projected to cause accelerated ice sheet loss and contribute significantly to global sea-level rise over coming decades. Changes in temperature or salinity of dense shelf waters around Antarctica, resulting from increased glacial meltwater input, have the potential to significantly impact the location and structure of the global Meridional Overturning Circulation, with seabed irregularities such as submarine canyons, driving these flows toward the abyss. Submarine canyons also influence the location of intruding warm water currents by acting as preferential routes for rising Circumpolar Deep Water. These global changes have implications for large-scale effects to atmospheric and oceanic circulation. The ability for numerical modellers to predict these future behaviours is dependent upon our ability to understand both modern and past oceanic, sedimentological and glaciological processes. This knowledge allows ocean models to better predict the flux and pathways of Circumpolar Deep Water delivery to the shelf, and consequently to ice shelf cavities where melt is concentrated. Here we seek to understand how dense shelf water and other continental slope processes influence submarine canyon morphology by analysing newly collected geophysical and oceanographic data from a region of significant and prolonged dense shelf water export, the Hillary Canyon in the Ross Sea. We find that cascading flows of dense shelf water do not contribute to significant gully incision at the shelf edge during interglacial periods, however, are strong enough to prevent gully infilling and contribute to canyon-levee aggradation down-slope. We find buried paleo-gullies beneath gullies incising the modern seafloor. Paleo-gullies occur as single gullies and in complexes indicating that gully activity was continuous over multiple glacial cycles and formed an important role in the development of the shelf edge and upper slope. Glacial cycles likely drive large-scale shifts in canyon head processes with periods of intense seafloor erosion and significant gully incision likely occurring when ice grounded near to the shelf edge, during glacial and deglacial periods, when sediment-laden subglacial meltwater was released at the shelf edge. We put slope morphology observed at the Hillary Canyon head into global perspective to show that cascading flows of dense shelf water do not exert consistent patterns of erosion on high-latitude continental margins.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 0169555X
Date made live: 24 Nov 2020 13:50 +0 (UTC)

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