, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 399-409
Date: 28 Apr 2007

Geomorphological evidence for upslope canyon-forming processes on the northern KwaZulu-Natal shelf, SW Indian Ocean, South Africa

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A geomorphological and statistical analysis of slope canyons from the northern KwaZulu-Natal continental margin is documented and compared with submarine canyons from the Atlantic margin of the USA. The northern KwaZulu-Natal margin is characterized by increasing upslope relief, concave slope-gradient profiles and features related to upslope growth of the canyon forms. Discounting slope-gradient profile, this morphology is strikingly similar to canyon systems of the New Jersey slope. Several phases of canyon incision indicate that downslope erosion is also an important factor in the evolution of the northern KwaZulu-Natal canyon systems. Despite the strong similarities between the northern KwaZulu-Natal and New Jersey slope-canyon systems, key differences are evident: (1) the concavity of the northern KwaZulu-Natal slope, contrasting with the ∼linear New Jersey slope; (2) the relative isolation of the northern KwaZulu-Natal canyons, rather than the dense clustering of the New Jersey canyons; and (3) the absence of strongly shelf-breaching canyons along the northern KwaZulu-Natal margin. In comparison with the New Jersey margin, we surmise a more youthful stage of canyon evolution, a result of either the canyons themselves being younger or the formative processes being less active. Less complicated patterns of erosion resulting from reduced sediment availability have developed in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The reduction in slope concavity on the New Jersey margin may be the result of grading of the upper slope by intensive headward erosion, a process more subdued—or less evident—on the KwaZulu-Natal margin.