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Submarine landslides play a major role in the development of distributary-mouth bars and are of major importance in transporting sediment from the bar front to deeper water along the Mississippi delta front. Historic maps of the South Pass of the Mississippi delta show that the bar advanced seaward more than 1 mi (1.6 km) between 1867 and 1953. Details of the growth of the bar have been elucidated using an elaborate computer modeling program to analyze these historic maps.
The analysis has shown that the geometry of the bar was controlled by the dynamics of the freshwater plume of river water as it mixed with saline Gulf water. Approximately half the sediment deposited on the bar was moved into deeper water by submarine landslides. The underlying causes of bar failure were established during major floods with the deposition of thick blankets of unstable, water-saturated sediments on the bar front. Failure occurred one to four years later in response to a variety of triggering mechanisms, which either changed the shear strength of the sediment or modified local bottom slope. The triggering mechanisms include: major storms and hurricanes, mudlump activity, and possibly, increased pore pressures resulting from generation of biogenic gas. Bar growth and bas nward movement of sediment thus represent a multivariate problem that can be approached by means of a computer analysis of bathymetric data.
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