Large-scale bedforms along a tideless outer shelf setting in the western Mediterranean

Claudio Lo Iacono, Jorge Guillén, Pere Puig, Marta Ribo Gene, María Gómez-Ballesteros, Albert Palanques, Farran, Juan Acosta

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26 Citations (Scopus)


High-resolution multibeam swath-bathymetry and sediment samples were collected across the outer shelf region of the Columbretes Islands (southern Ebro continental shelf, western Mediterranean Sea). Bathymetric data from the submerged part of the Columbretes volcanic system revealed the presence of three main relict sand bodies along the outer shelf, at 80–116 m depth range, above which asymmetric and slightly asymmetric large and very large 2D and 3D subaqueous dunes were observed. These bed features were recognized, mapped and quantified with the aim of evaluating their potential formation mechanisms in relation to the local hydrodynamic and morphologic settings of the area. Dunes range from 150 to 760 m in wavelength and from tens of centimeters to 3 m in height, and are among the longest ever recognized in an outer shelf region. These bedforms are mostly composed of medium-sized sandy sediments, presumably coming from the degraded relict sand bodies on top of which they have developed, mixed with fine fractions from the recent draping holocenic sediments. The orientation of the dunes is SSW, progressively turning W towards the southernmost sector of the area, following the trend of the shelf-edge. Contemporary hydrodynamic measurements at the Ebro continental shelf-edge show that recorded currents are insufficient to form the observed bedforms and that stronger currents are required for sediment mobilization and dune formation. Based on their morphology and orientation, it is proposed that these bedforms are produced by the action of the southward-flowing Liguro-Provençal-Catalan (LPC) geostrophic current. The LPC probably reaches high near-bottom currents during energetic hydrodynamic events through interactions with the seafloor morphology of the study area. Subaqueous dunes are expected to be basically inactive features with respect to present-day processes, although they can be reactivated during high-energy events. The small Δh/λ ratio measured in the dune fields of the Columbretes shelf revealed that the dune heights fall below the values predicted by the Flemming (1988) global equation, as observed in other outer shelf settings also dominated by unidirectional flows. This may suggest a different morphodynamic character of large dunes formed on outer shelves in a micro-tidal regime.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1802 - 1813
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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