The great majority of submarine channels formed by turbidity and density currents are meandering in planform; they consist of a single, sinuous channel that transports a turbid, dense flow of sediment from submarine canyons to ocean floor environments1,2. Braided turbidite systems consisting of multiple, interconnected channel threads are conspicuously rare1. Furthermore, such systems may not represent the spontaneous planform instability of true braiding, but instead result from erosive processes or bathymetric variability3,4,5. In marked contrast to submarine environments, both meandering and braided planforms are common in fluvial systems6,7. Here we present experiments of subaqueous channel formation conducted at two laboratory facilities. We find that density currents readily produce a braided planform for flow aspect ratios of depth to width that are similar to those that produce river braiding. Moreover, we find that stability model theory for river planform morphology8 successfully describes submarine channels in both experiments and the field. On the basis of these observations, we propose that the rarity of braided submarine channels is explained by the generally greater flow depths in submarine systems, which necessitate commensurately greater widths to achieve the required aspect ratio, along with feedbacks9,10 among flow thickness, suspended sediment concentration and channel relief that induce greater levee deposition rates and limit channel widening.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $15.58 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Wynn, R. B., Cronin, B. T. & Peakall, J. Sinuous deep-water channels: Genesis, geometry and architecture. Mar. Petrol. Geol. 24, 341–387 (2007).
Piper, D. J. W. & Normark, W. R. Processes that initiate turbidity currents and their influence on turbidites: A marine geology perspective. J. Sedim. Res. 79, 347–362 (2009).
Ercilla, G. et al. New high-resolution acoustic data from the ‘braided system’ of the Orinoco deep-sea fan. Mar. Geol. 146, 243–350 (1998).
Hesse, R. et al. Sandy submarine braid plains: Potential deep-water reservoirs. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. Bull. 85, 1499–1521 (2001).
Flood, R. D., Hiscott, R. N. & Aksu, A. E. Morphology and evolution of an anastomosed channel network where saline underflow enters the Black Sea. Sedimentology 56, 807–839 (2009).
Leopold, L. B. & Wolman, M. G. River channel patterns: Braided, meandering and straight. US Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap. 282-B, 39–85 (1957).
Schumm, S. A. Patterns of alluvial rivers. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 13, 5–27 (1985).
Parker, G. On the cause and characteristic scales of meandering in braiding in rivers. J. Fluid Mech. 76, 457–480 (1976).
Straub, K. M. & Mohrig, D. Quantifying the morphology and growth of levees in aggrading submarine channels. J. Geophys. Res. 113, F03012 (2008).
Peakall, J., McCaffrey, B. & Kneller, B. A process model for the evolution, morphology, and architecture of sinuous submarine channels. J. Sedim. Res. 70, 434–448 (2000).
Ashmore, P. E. Bed load transport in braided gravel-bed stream models. Earth Surf. Process. Landf. 13, 677–695 (1988).
Paola, C. in Gravel-Bed Rivers V (ed Mosley, M. P.) 11–38 (New Zealand Hydrological Society, 2001).
Sinha, R. & Friend, P. F. River systems and their sediment flux, Indo-Gangetic plains, Northern Bihar, India. Sedimentology 41, 825–845 (1994).
Cronin, B. T. et al. in Atlas of Deep-Water Environments: Architectural Styles in Turbidite Systems (eds Pickering, K. T. et al.) 84–88 (Chapman & Hall, 1995).
Covault, J. A., Fildani, A., Romans, B. W. & McHargue, T. The natural range of submarine canyon-and-channel longitudinal profiles. Geosphere 7, 313–332 (2011).
Hein, F. J. & Walker, R. G. The Cambro-Ordovician Cap Eragé Formation, Queébec, Canada: Conglomeratic deposits of a braided submarine channel with terraces. Sedimentology 29, 309–352 (1982).
Schumm, S. A. & Kahn, H. R. Experimental study of channel patterns. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 83, 1755–1770 (1972).
Murray, A. B. & Paola, C. A cellular model of braided rivers. Nature 371, 54–57 (1994).
Paola, C., Straub, K., Mohrig, D. & Reinhardt, L. The “unreasonable effectiveness” of stratigraphic and geomorphic experiments. Earth Sci. Rev. 97, 1–43 (2009).
Straub, K. M., Mohrig, D., McElroy, B., Buttles, J. & Pirmez, C. Interactions between turbidity currents and topography in aggrading sinuous submarine channels: A laboratory study. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 120, 368–385 (2008).
Sequeiros, O. E. Estimating turbidity current conditions from channel morphology: A Froude number approach. J. Geophys. Res. 117, C04003 (2012).
Métivier, F., Lajeunesse, E. & Cacas, M.-C. Submarine canyons in the bathtub. J. Sedim. Res. 75, 6–11 (2005).
Yu, B. et al. Experiments on self-channelization subaqueous fans emplaced by turbidity currents and dilute mudflows. J. Sedim. Res. 76, 889–902 (2006).
Malverti, L. E., Lajeunesse, E. & Métivier, F. Small is beautiful: Upscaling from microscale laminar to natural turbulent rivers. J. Geophys. Res. 113, F04004 (2008).
Pirmez, C. Growth of a Submarine Meandering Channel-Levee System on the Amazon Fan PhD dissertation, Univ. Columbia (1994)
Deptuck, M. E., Steffens, G. S., Barton, M. & Pirmez, C. Architecture and evolution of upper fan channel-belts on the Niger Delta slope and in the Arabian Sea. Mar. Petrol. Geol. 20, 649–676 (2003).
Straub, K. M. & Mohrig, D. Growth of constructional canyons via sheet flow turbidity currents: Observations from offshore Brunei Darussalam. J. Sedim. Res. 79, 24–39 (2009).
Hiscott, R. N. et al. Basin-floor fans in the North Sea: Sequence stratigraphic models vs. sedimentary facies: Discussion. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. Bull. 81, 662–665 (1997).
Mohrig, D. & Buttles, J. Deep turbidity currents in shallow channels. Geology 35, 155–158 (2007).
Smith, D. G. & Smith, N. D. Sedimentation in anastomosed river systems: Examples from alluvial valleys near Banff, Alberta. J. Sedim. Petrol. 50, 157–164 (1980).
The authors thank the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory Industry Consortium, which includes Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil, and BHP Billiton, as well as the Ministry of Science and Technology from Taiwan (MOST 103-2221-E-006-215) for funding of this research. S. S. C. Hung, D. Baldus, R. Rosario, A. Sorenson and B. Erickson are acknowledged for assistance in conducting experiments.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Foreman, B., Lai, S., Komatsu, Y. et al. Braiding of submarine channels controlled by aspect ratio similar to rivers. Nature Geosci 8, 700–703 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2505
Deep-water channels in the lower Congo basin: Evolution of the geomorphology and depositional environment during the Miocene
Marine and Petroleum Geology (2020)
Geomorphic variability of submarine channelized systems along continental margins: Comparison with fluvial meandering channels
Marine and Petroleum Geology (2020)
Geomorphometric comparison of submarine channel-levee complexes with fluvial river systems: observations from the Indus
Geo-Marine Letters (2020)
Self‐Similar Morphodynamics of Gilbert and Hyperpycnal Deltas Over Segmented Two‐Slope Bedrock Channels
Water Resources Research (2019)