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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Dr Matthieu Cartigny

Heijnen, Maarten S., Clare, Michael A., Cartigny, Matthieu J. B., Talling, Peter J., Hage, Sophie, Lintern, D. Gwyn, Stacey, Cooper, Parsons, Daniel R., Simmons, Stephen M., Chen, Ye, Sumner, Esther J., Dix, Justin K. & Hughes Clarke, John E. (2020). Rapidly-migrating and internally-generated knickpoints can control submarine channel evolution. Nature Communications 11(1): 3129

Author(s) from Durham


Submarine channels are the primary conduits for terrestrial sediment, organic carbon, and
pollutant transport to the deep sea. Submarine channels are far more difficult to monitor than
rivers, and thus less well understood. Here we present 9 years of time-lapse mapping of an
active submarine channel along its full length in Bute Inlet, Canada. Past studies suggested
that meander-bend migration, levee-deposition, or migration of (supercritical-flow) bedforms
controls the evolution of submarine channels. We show for the first time how rapid
(100–450 m/year) upstream migration of 5-to-30 m high knickpoints can control submarine
channel evolution. Knickpoint migration-related changes include deep (>25 m) erosion, and
lateral migration of the channel. Knickpoints in rivers are created by external factors, such as
tectonics, or base-level change. However, the knickpoints in Bute Inlet appear internally
generated. Similar knickpoints are found in several submarine channels worldwide, and are
thus globally important for how channels operate.