Journal article

Sediment dynamics in the subaquatic channel of the Rhone delta (Lake Geneva, France/Switzerland)

With its smaller size, well-known boundary conditions, and the availability of detailed bathymetric data, Lake Geneva's subaquatic canyon in the Rhone Delta is an excellent analogue to understand sedimentary processes in deep-water submarine channels. A multidisciplinary research effort was undertaken to unravel the sediment dynamics in the active canyon. This approach included innovative coring using the Russian MIR submersibles, in situ geotechnical tests, and geophysical, sedimentological, geochemical and radiometric analysis techniques. The canyon floor/levee complex is characterized by a classic turbiditic system with frequent spillover events. Sedimentary evolution in the active canyon is controlled by a complex interplay between erosion and sedimentation processes. In situ profiling of sediment strength in the upper layer was tested using a dynamic penetrometer and suggests that erosion is the governing mechanism in the proximal canyon floor while sedimentation dominates in the levee structure. Sedimentation rates progressively decrease down-channel along the levee structure, with accumulation exceeding 2.6 cm/year in the proximal levee. A decrease in the frequency of turbidites upwards along the canyon wall suggests a progressive confinement of the flow through time. The multi-proxy methodology has also enabled a qualitative slope-stability assessment in the levee structure. The rapid sediment loading, slope undercutting and over-steepening, and increased pore pressure due to high methane concentrations hint at a potential instability of the proximal levees. Furthermore, discrete sandy intervals show very high methane concentrations and low shear strength and thus could correspond to potentially weak layers prone to scarp failures.


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