Sea level rise and submarine mass failures on open continental margins

D.E. Smith, S. Harrison, Jason T. Jordan

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    65 Citations (Scopus)


    Submarine mass failures (which include submarine slides or submarine landslides) occur widely on open continental margins. Understanding their cause is of great importance in view of the danger that they can pose both to coastal populations through tsunamis and to the exploitation of ocean floor resources through mass movement of the sea floor. Present knowledge of the causes of submarine mass failures is briefly reviewed, focussing on the role of sea level rise, a process which has previously only infrequently been cited as a cause. It is argued that sea level rise could easily have been involved in at least some of these events by contributing to increased overpressure in sediments of the continental margin whilst causing seismic activity. The Holocene Storegga Slide off South West Norway may have been partly caused by the early Holocene sea level rise in the area, accentuated by meltwater flux from the discharges of Lake Agassiz-Ojibway in North America. Relative sea level rise increased water loading on the Norwegian continental margin, increasing overpressure in the sediments and also causing seismic activity, triggering the Holocene Storegga Slide. Given that some forecasts of future sea level rise are not greatly different from rises which obtained during the early Holocene, the implications of rising sea levels for submarine mass failures in a global warming world are considered.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)93-103
    JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
    Publication statusPublished - 2013

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    • climate change
    • continental margin
    • holocene storegga slide
    • sea level rise
    • submarine mass failures


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