About This Item

Share This Item

The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

Journal of Sedimentary Research (SEPM)


Journal of Sedimentary Petrology
Vol. 52 (1982)No. 1. (March), Pages 279-297

Sediment Gravity Flows: II Depositional Models with Special Reference to the Deposits of High-Density Turbidity Currents

Donald R. Lowe


Four principal mechanisms of deposition are effective in the formation of sediment gravity flow deposits. Grains deposited by traction sedimentation and suspension sedimentation respond individually and accumulate directly from bed and suspended loads, respectively. Those deposited by frictional freezing and cohesive freezing interact through either frictional contact or cohesive forces, respectively, and are deposited collectively, usually by plug formation. Sediment deposition from individual sediment flows commonly involves more than one of these mechanisms acting either serially as the flow evolves or simultaneously on different grain populations.

Deposition from turbidity currents is treated in terms of three dynamic grain populations: 1) clay- to medium-grained sand-sized particles that can be fully suspended as individual grains by flow turbulence, 2) coarse-grained sand to small-pebble-sized gravel that can be fully suspended in large amounts mainly in highly concentrated turbulent suspensions where grain fall velocity is substantially reduced by hindered settling, and 3) pebble- and cobble-sized clasts having concentrations greater than 10 percent to 15 percent that will be supported largely by dispersive pressure resulting from clast collisions and by buoyant lift provided by the interstitial mixture of water and finer-grained sediment. The effects of hindered settling, dispersive pressure, and matrix buoyant lift are con entration dependent, and grain populations 2 and 3 are likely to be transported in large amounts only within flows having high particle concentrations, probably in excess of 20 percent solids by volume. Low-density turbidity currents, made up largely of grains of population 1, typically show an initial period of traction sedimentation, forming Bouma (Tb) and Tc) divisions, followed by one of mixed traction and suspension sedimentation (Td), and a terminal period of fine-grained suspension sedimentation (Te).

The sediment loads of high-density turbidity currents commonly include grains belonging to populations 1, 2, and 3. Consequently, deposition often occurs as a series of discrete sedimentation waves as flows decelerate and individual grain populations can no longer be maintained in transport. Each sedimentation wave tends to show increasing unsteadiness and accelerating sedimentation rate as it evolves, passing from an initial stage of traction sedimentation, to one of mixed frictional freezing and suspension sedimentation within traction carpets, to a final stage of direct suspension sedimentation. Sequences of sedimentary structure divisions representing this succession of depositional stages are here termed the ecoR1-3) sequence, representing population 3 grains, and the S1-3) sequence, representing population 2. Deposition of the high-density suspended load leaves behind a residual low-density turbidity current composed largely of population 1 grains. At their distal ends, high-density turbidity currents deposit mainly by suspension sedimentation, forming thin (S3) divisions. These (S3) divisions are the same as Bouma (Ta) and, if subsequently capped by (Tb-e) deposited by the residual low-density flows, become the basal divisions of normal turbidities.

Liquefied flows deposit by direct high-density suspension sedimentation. Grain flows of sand are characterized by frictional freezing and their deposits are limited mainly to angle-of-repose slipface units. Density-modified grain flows, in which larger clasts are partially supported by matrix buoyancy, and traction carpets, in which a dense frictional grain dispersion is driven by an overlying turbulent flow, are important in the buildup of natural deposits on submarine slopes. Cohesive debris flows depost sediment mainly by cohesive freezing, commonly modified by suspension sedimentation of the largest clasts.

Pay-Per-View Purchase Options

The article is available through a document delivery service. Explain these Purchase Options.

Protected Document: $10
Internal PDF Document: $14
Open PDF Document: $24