By Jason Chaytor (USGS)
Submarine canyons are the primary transport pathways for terrigenous sediment that reaches the abyssal seafloor. Yet, our understanding of canyon formation is limited due to an absence of focused exploration at canyon heads. We aim to explore two fundamental questions: how do submarine canyons form and what can their fine-scale morphology tell us about sediment transport from the shelf to the abyssal sea.
Submarine canyons along the Virginia-Delaware continental margin represent some of the most intriguing geomorphic features of the entire US Atlantic margin. Here, numerous canyons create seafloor relief of several hundred meters and form complex channel networks resembling onshore river systems. Several canyons (e.g. Norfolk, Washington, Accomac and Baltimore) extend landward from the shelf break for tens of kilometers and appear to capture along-shelf current driven transport of sediment.
As such, the canyons are recognized as having strong influence on modern-day and ancient geological, biological and oceanographic processes. New swath sonar data will allow us to apply quantitative tools to study linkages between seafloor morphology, sedimentary dynamics, oceanographic currents, and sea life.