Volcanic Margins Research Consortium
How new deep-sea measurements change turbidity current models.
The ocean floor is the least explored terrain on our planet. Global maps are only available from satellites on a resolution far below that of the maps of the Moon and Mars. If one were to drain the oceans, then a landscape would emerge that hosts the highest peaks, deepest canyons and the largest plains on our planet. One of the most puzzling features of the ocean floor are turbidity current channels, which can extend for many hundreds or even thousands of kilometres. Turbidity currents are some of the largest particle-driven gravity currents on Earth, as a single turbidity current may transport more sediment than the annual flux from all of the world’s rivers combined.
Turbidity currents are known to break submarine telecommunication cables that now transport >95% of global data traffic. Our society is still dependent on the oil and gas that is extracted from reservoirs hosted in ancient turbidity current deposits. Additionally, these flows play an important role in the geochemical cycles that underpin the working of our planet as they transport and bury globally significant amounts of organic carbon.
In contrast to their importance, less than ten detailed direct observations of these flows have ever been made. These currents are notoriously difficult to monitor due to their inaccessible location and destructive nature. Fortunately, recent developments in technology, such as submarine robotics and new remote-sensing techniques, now start to allow us to directly monitor oceanic turbidity currents in unprecedented detail.
In this presentation, I will give an overview of several recent turbidity current monitoring projects. These projects have resulted in surprising findings such as: 1) flows can last for more than a week; 2) submarine canyons can be active for four months a year and host turbidity current that rival some of the biggest rivers in the world in their capability to transport sediment; and 3) muddy turbidity current have a structure that differs from any previously seen turbidity current.
The Volcanic Margins Research Consortium (VMRC) provides the petroleum industry with training and research expertise in volcanology, sedimentology and structural geology of volcanic margins. The consortium comprises academic staff at the universities of Durham, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Leicester and CASP, and industry partners involved in the development of hydrocarbon prospects in the North Atlantic Igneous Province and the Faroes-Shetland Basin.
Training takes place during workshops, in the laboratory and on field courses and each industrial partner has the opportunity to fund PhD projects through the member universities.
VMRC Leader: Richard Brown