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Rivers under the Sea

The modern sea-floor has an abundance of giant channels that can be thousands of miles long, up to several miles wide, and hundreds of metres deep. These submarine channels are the feeder systems and arteries of submarine fans, the largest sedimentary deposits on Earth. Surprisingly these giant ocean-floor channels are perhaps the most poorly known large-scale (up to thousands of miles long) geomorphic feature on the planet. Certainly the channels on Mars, and even Venus, are far more widely recognised! These channels are fed by fast moving particulate-laden flows that are denser than the surrounding seawater and known as turbidity currents. Initiation of these flows can result in small tsunami, and as they travel downslope they can damage sea-floor infrastructure and communications cables; for example they were responsible for a major internet failure in 2006 in the far east. Such submarine channel flows may also play a key role in the carbon cycle through transport and burial of organic material. In addition, the deposits of ancient submarine channels are of increasing importance as hydrocarbon reservoirs, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore West Africa. Our early models and understanding of these submarine channels were based around comparison with their terrestrial cousins, rivers, yet recent work has highlighted just how dramatically different submarine channels and rivers really are.


Jeffrey Peakall (University of Leeds)


Jeff Peakall is Professor of Process Sedimentology in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. Jeff is also Director of the NERC Sorby Environmental Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Leeds, which acts as a national centre for the study of environmental fluid dynamics. He studied Geology and Sedimentology at the Universities of St. Andrews, Reading and Leeds, before taking a faculty position at Leeds in 2000. His research uses: field measurements of active geophysical flows, laboratory experiments, numerical modelling, and analysis of sedimentary deposits, to look at a wide range of Earth surface processes. In addition he works extensively on a range of applied sedimentation problems related to nuclear waste decommissioning, and perhaps most tangentially led the work on examining the fluid dynamic properties of fabrics for Speedo’s swimsuits for the London Olympics. His primary research focus has however been on the form and evolution of submarine channels, the flows that traverse them, and the nature of their deposits.



rivers under the sea 


Date: 17 April 2013

Venue: The Geological Society, London

Speaker: Jeffery Peakall



Naomi Newbold
Tel: 020 7432 0981