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Where does the mud go in turbidite systems and why does it matter?

Dr Marco Patacci (SEE), Marco Fonnesu (ENI), Lawrence Amy (UCD Ireland), Bill McCaffrey (SEE)

Project partner(s): ENI (Milan, Italy) (CASE)

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• Opportunity to undertake fieldwork in stunning settings, such as the Maritime Alps (France) and the Ligurian coast (Italy).

• Learn and apply the most recent and cutting-edge techniques in quantitative sedimentology.

• Join an integrated research group, with linkage to international research associates and industry

• Attend international conferences in the Europe, the US and elsewhere

• Project sits alongside linked research as part of a larger programme

• Tutoring in career development (academia, industry and beyond)

Sediment driven gravity flows dominate sediment transport into many parts of the deep oceans, where they build submarine fans, the largest sediment accumulations on Earth. For decades only two types of such flow were recognised: dense, laminar debris flows (commonly muddy, with minor sand) and dilute, turbulent turbidity currents (commonly carrying sand and mud). Turbidity currents were thought to evolve from debris flows through flow dilution. Since the early 2000s, however, it has become evident that flow evolution can be far more complex and that mud plays a key role. In particular flows of intermediate character are known to occur, whose deposits are common, complicated and difficult to predict. At their simplest, such beds are characterised by the association of a basal clean sandy division resembling a turbidite and an upper a chaotic muddy unit resembling a debrite, emplaced as part of a single flow event (Haughton et al., 2009). A number of studies have described such “hybrid events beds” and some general models for their generation have been proposed (e.g. Talling, 2013). However, why they are abundant in some systems and absent in others is still largely unknown – although both field and laboratory studies are starting to suggest that how flows acquire mud, its character, and where it is acquired are important. The project will research these effects by combining sedimentological fieldwork to acquire data from ancient turbidite systems with a quantitative databasing approach to gather and analyse the available published data from the scientific literature.

Click here for a full project description.

Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Earth science
  • Geological science
  • Geology