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Internal tsunami waves transport sediment released by underwater landslides

TitleInternal tsunami waves transport sediment released by underwater landslides
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsBrizuela N., Filonov A., Alford MH
Date Published2019/07
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number2045-2322
Accession NumberWOS:000476874600073
Keywordsdensity; flow; potential-energy; Science & Technology - Other Topics; turbidity currents; water

Accelerated by gravity, submarine landslides transfer energy to the marine environment, most notably leading to catastrophic tsunamis. While tsunamis are thought to use less than 15% of the total energy released by landslides, little is known about subsurface processes comprising the rest of their energy budgets. Here, we analyze the first set of observations depicting a lake's interior response to underwater landslides and find that sediment transport is modulated by baroclinic waves that propagate along vertical gradients in temperature and sediment concentration. When traveling along a shallow thermocline, these waves can reach past topographic features that bound turbidity currents and thus expand the influence area of underwater landslides. With order of magnitude calculations, we estimate that observed thermocline internal waves received roughly 0.7% of available landslide energy and infer their contribution to homogenize the lake's thermodynamical properties by means of turbulent mixing. Lastly, we show that landslides in our data set modified the lake's intrinsic dynamical modes and thus had a permanent impact on its circulation. This suggests that measurements of subsurface wave propagation are sufficient to diagnose bathymetric transformations. Our experiment constitutes the first direct observation of both internal tsunami waves and turbidity current reflection. Moreover, it demonstrates that background density stratification has a significant effect on the transport of sediment after submarine landslides and provides a valuable reference for numerical models that simulate submarine mass failures.

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