Durable Terrestrial Bedrock Predicts Submarine Canyon Formation

M. Elliot Smith, Noah J. Finnegan, Erich R. Mueller, Rebecca J. Best

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Though submarine canyons are first-order topographic features of Earth, the processes responsible for their occurrence remain poorly understood. Potentially analogous studies of terrestrial rivers show that the flux and caliber of transported bedload are significant controls on bedrock incision. Here we hypothesize that coarse sediment load could exert a similar role in the formation of submarine canyons. We conducted a comprehensive empirical analysis of canyon occurrence along the West Coast of the contiguous United States which indicates that submarine canyon occurrence is best predicted by the occurrence of durable crystalline bedrock in adjacent terrestrial catchments. Canyon occurrence is also predicted by the flux of bed sediment to shore from terrestrial streams. Surprisingly, no significant correlation was observed between canyon occurrence and the slope or width of the continental shelf. These findings suggest that canyon incision is promoted by greater yields of durable terrestrial clasts to the shore.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10,332-10,340
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 28 2017


  • bed load
  • bedrock
  • durability
  • erosion
  • submarine canyons
  • terrestrial sediment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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