The combined expertise of earth scientists, engineers and technical capabilities across a range of international partners have come together to produce a step-change in our understanding of these submarine systems, which are the biggest channels on Earth. The partners were able to infer that they consist of fast and dense near-bed layers, caused by remobilisation of the seafloor, overlain by dilute clouds of suspended sediment. The seabed itself becomes mobile in the upper reaches of the canyon, probably due to a process known as liquefaction, with the heavy instruments rafted within the fast-moving dense layer of sediment. This discovery could help ocean engineers avoid damage to pipelines, communications cables, and other seafloor structures.
The discovery relating to how these flows destabilise the ocean floor, which has been published in the prestigious Nature Communications, will lead to greater understanding of:
- Earth’s geological history by improved interpretation of the flows and the ‘barcode-like’ deposits left behind
- the risk these currents pose to global data communications between countries resulting from cable breaks, as well as gas and oil pipeline infrastructure
- the impact these currents have on the carbon cycle by transporting and burying globally significant amounts of organic carbon into the deep ocean, effectively locking it away.