Sink-to-source: Influence of offshore dynamics on upstream processes

Antoinette Abeyta, Brady Z. Foreman, John B. Swenson, Chris Paola, Jeré Mohr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


When we model fluvial sedimentation and the resultant alluvial stratigraphy, we typically focus on the effects of local parameters (e.g., sediment flux, water discharge, grain size) and the effects of regional changes in boundary conditions applied in the source region (i.e., climate, tectonics) and at the shoreline (i.e., sea level). In recent years this viewpoint has been codified into the “source-to-sink” paradigm, wherein major shifts in sediment flux, grain-size fining trends, channel-stacking patterns, floodplain deposition and larger stratigraphic systems tracts are interpreted in terms of (1) tectonic and climatic signals originating in the hinterland that propagate downstream; and (2) eustatic fluctuation, which affects the position of the shoreline and dictates the generation of accommodation. Within this paradigm, eustasy represents the sole means by which downstream processes may affect terrestrial depositional systems. Here, we detail three experimental cases in which coastal rivers are strongly influenced by offshore and slope transport systems via the clinoform geometries typical of prograding sedimentary bodies. These examples illustrate an underdeveloped, but potentially important “sink-to-source” influence on the evolution of fluvial-deltaic systems. The experiments illustrate the effects of (1) submarine hyperpycnal flows, (2) submarine delta front failure events, and (3) deformable substrates within prodelta and offshore settings. These submarine processes generate (1) erosional knickpoints in coastal rivers, (2) increased river channel occupancy times, (3) rapid rates of shoreline movement, and (4) localized zones of significant offshore sediment accumulation. Ramifications for coastal plain and deltaic stratigraphic patterns include changes in the hierarchy of scour surfaces, fluvial sand-body geometries, reconstruction of sea-level variability and large-scale stratal geometries, all of which are linked to the identification and interpretation of sequences and systems tracts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)783-798
Number of pages16
JournalBasin Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to recognize funding from the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics (NSF Grant Number EAR-1246761), and the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory Industrial Consortium, which included Chevron, ExxonMobil, BHP Billiton, ConocoPhillips, and JOGMEC. We are also grateful to Chris Ellis for help with the Delta Basin experiments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors. Basin Research © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd, European Association of Geoscientists & Engineers and International Association of Sedimentologists


  • sea-level
  • sediment flux
  • sedimentology
  • stratigraphy


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