Clinoform progradation by turbidity currents: Modeling and experiments

Thomas P. Gerber, Lincoln F. Pratson, Matthew A. Wolinsky, Ron Steel, Jeré Mohr, John B Swenson, Chris Paola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Clinoform morphologies and growth patterns are typically viewed as the product of a particular mode of sediment transport, but process-specific models for their generation from turbidity currents are few, despite observations of turbidity currents on modern clinoforms and turbidites in ancient clinoform deposits. We present a simple morphodynamic model, supported by laboratory experiments, which shows how net-depositional turbidity currents can build sedimentary clinoforms. Most conceptual models for clinoform evolution assume that under constant (sea level, sediment supply) forcing progradation occurs via continuous basinward migration of a depocenter localized near the clinoform rollover. Abrupt basinward shifts in depocenter location are therefore an indication of allogenic variability in forcing. In contrast, our results document a unique style of progradation driven by autogenic cycles of slope steepening, sediment bypass, and depositional backstepping on the foreset slope. In experiments designed to investigate this slope-flow feedback, deposition from a continuous turbidity current transporting fine sand and silt repeatedly steepened a clinoform foreset to a graded slope which bypassed sediment to the slope base, depositing a sediment lobe. Continued deposition then caused the lobe to backstep up the slope, building a lower-slope foreset and eventually reinitiating the cycle. Our model shows how this cyclic depositional pattern arises from a morphodynamic feedback between the foreset gradient and the rate of sediment resuspension by the overriding turbidity current. Using our model to scale experimental results to the field, we predict gradual foreset steepening in prograding turbidity-current- dominated clinoform strata, with slope grading and cyclic deposition favored where these clinoforms build over steep basin slopes under conditions of high sediment supply and/or lateral confinement. We demonstrate how our results can add new insight to process-based interpretation of clinoform strata by application to a modern and an ancient field example.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-238
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Sedimentary Research
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2008


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