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Three types of modern submarine canyons on the tectonically active continental margin offshore southwestern Taiwan

Abstract

Six submarine canyons are distributed along the active margin off SW Taiwan. Using multi-beam bathymetric data and reflection seismic profiles to determine canyon head locations with respect to shelf edge, five of these canyons were classified into the following three types: 1. river-connected; 2. shelf-indenting; and 3. slope-confined. The remaining canyon was re-interpreted as a sea valley. Type 1 canyon, the Kaoping Canyon, is directly connected to the Kaoping River and supplied with terrestrial sediment. The canyon head segment tends to generate hyperpycnal flows during flooding, causing intense erosion of seafloor across the shelf and slope and forming a major sediment conduit. The Penghu, Kaohsiung and Fangliao canyons are of type 2 and incise into the shelf, forming a V-shaped head segment with abundant slumping features. Without continuous sediment supply from rivers, the canyon head receives sediments mainly from local slope failures on canyon walls and is unable to generate intense erosive sediment flows, resulting in an indentation into the shelf over a short distance. Oceanographic/hydrodynamic measurements close to the canyons are still not available for the region, despite they could shed light on the on-going sediment dynamics in the area. The Shoushan Canyon is a type 3 canyon characterized by limited sediment input from the Kaoping Shelf and weak canyon erosion, especially during sea-level highstands, resulting in a relatively straight canyon course confined to the upper slope. These submarine canyons share common regional tectonics, sea-level changes and climatic conditions. However, they evolved via local processes mainly controlled by sediment input directly related to head location, resulting in distinct morphologies and sizes. These canyons have remained active during the present-day sea-level highstand. Frequent earthquake and flooding events are the major triggering factors for sediment failures and generation of subsequent turbidity currents, resulting in substantial incision into the canyon. The results of the present study indicate that the SW Taiwan margin is characterized by canyons of type 1 and type 2 (n = 4) with only one type 3 canyon. This represents large percentages of type 1 and type 2 canyons compared to other regions of the world. Narrow shelf and abundant sediment supply are the two main controls for the presence of river-connecting and shelf-incising canyons on the active Taiwan margin.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the captain and crew of the R/V Ocean Research I, II and V who helped to collect the multi-beam bathymetric data and reflection seismic profiles for this study. This study is mainly supported by Central Geological Survey, Taiwan, under grants from the National Science Council, Taiwan. We acknowledge the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions that have improved the manuscript. We also appreciate the scientific input and language improvements by the journal editors. Funding was provided by Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (107-2611-M-178-002 ).

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Correspondence to Cheng-Shing Chiang.

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Chiang, CS., Hsiung, KH., Yu, HS. et al. Three types of modern submarine canyons on the tectonically active continental margin offshore southwestern Taiwan. Mar Geophys Res 41, 4 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11001-020-09403-z

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Keywords

  • Canyon types
  • Canyon head location
  • Sediment input
  • Tectonics
  • Taiwan margin