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Seafloor morphology in the Mozambique Channel: evidence for long-term persistent bottom-current flow and deep-reaching eddy activity

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Abstract

The Mozambique Channel plays a key role in the exchange of surface water masses between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and forms a topographic barrier for meridional deep and bottom water circulation due to its northward shoaling water depths. New high-resolution bathymetry and sub-bottom profiler data show that due to these topographic constraints a peculiar seafloor morphology has evolved, which exhibits a large variety of current-controlled bedforms. The most spectacular bedforms are giant erosional scours in the southwest, where northward spreading Antarctic Bottom Water is topographically blocked to the north and deflected to the east forming furrows, channels and steep sediment waves along its flow path. Farther north, in the water depth range of North Atlantic Deep Water, the seafloor is strongly shaped by deep-reaching eddies. Steep, upslope migrating sediment waves in the west have formed beneath the southward flow of anticyclonic Mozambique Channel eddies (MCEs). Arcuate bedforms in the middle evolved through an interaction of the northward flow of MCEs with crevasse splays from a breach in the western Zambezi Channel levee. Hummocky bedforms in the east result from an interplay of East Madagascar Current eddies with overspill deposits of the crevasse and Zambezi Channel. All bedforms are draped with sediments indicating that the present-day current velocities are not strong enough to erode sediments. Hence, it can be concluded that the seafloor morphology developed during earlier times, when bottom-current velocities were stronger. Assuming a sedimentation rate of 20 m/Ma and a drape of at least 50 m thickness the bedforms may have developed during the Pliocene Epoch or earlier.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the captain and crew of the RV Sonne cruise SO-183 for their efficient help and support during the expedition. Eric Firing (Department of Oceanography, University of Hawai’i at Manoa) kindly provided the LADCP data from WOCE section I4 and Herman Ridderinkhof (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research) the LADCP data from the ACSEX-1 cruise via the CODIS data management group. The maps and the bathymetry profiles were produced using the free software GMT (Wessel and Smith 1991), and the hydrographic sections were produced using the free software Ocean Data View (Schlitzer 2011). The analysis and interpretation of the data were done within two cooperation projects between the Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven and the Universität Bremen. The project was funded by the German Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) under contract no. 03G0183A. We thank the editor Wu-Cheng Chi, Eleonora Martorelli and an anonymous reviewer for their critical and valuable comments, which helped to improve the manuscript significantly.

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Breitzke, M., Wiles, E., Krocker, R. et al. Seafloor morphology in the Mozambique Channel: evidence for long-term persistent bottom-current flow and deep-reaching eddy activity. Mar Geophys Res 38, 241–269 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11001-017-9322-7

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