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Causes of Two Slope-Failure Types in Continental-Shelf Sediment, Northeastern Gulf of Alaska
William C. Schwab, Homa J. Lee
Slumps and sediment-gravity flows have been identified in Holocene glaciomarine sediment on declivities less than 1.3° on the Gulf of Alaska continental shelf. Geologic and geotechnical investigation suggest that the processes responsible for these slope failures are earthquake and storm-wave loading, coupled with cyclic degradation of the sediment-shear strength. We propose that the failure type is related to the nature of the failure load. For example, a slump that occurs approximately 30 km seaward of Icy Bay in water depth of 70 to 150 m was most likely caused by earthquake loading, whereas sediment-gravity flows on the Alsek prodelta, which occur in water depths of 35 to 80 m, probably were caused primarily by storm-wave loading. Sediment remolding and redistribution and inco poration of water, which occurs more readily during wave loading from a long storm than during the limited number of loading cycles generated by an earthquake, reduces the shear strength and increases the fluidity of the failed sediment mass. Wave-induced slope failures thereby tend to transform into sediment-gravity flows.
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