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Longest sediment flows yet measured show how major rivers connect efficiently to deep sea

Talling, Peter J.; Baker, Megan L.; Pope, Ed L.; Ruffell, Sean C.; Jacinto, Ricardo Silva; Heijnen, Maarten S.; Hage, Sophie; Simmons, Stephen M.; Hasenhündl, Martin; Heerema, Catharina J.; McGhee, Claire; Apprioual, Ronan; Ferrant, Anthony; Cartigny, Matthieu J.B.; Parsons, Daniel R.; Clare, Michael A.; Tshimanga, Raphael M.; Trigg, Mark A.; Cula, Costa A.; Faria, Rui; Gaillot, Arnaud; Bola, Gode; Wallance, Dec; Griffiths, Allan; Nunny, Robert; Urlaub, Morelia; Peirce, Christine; Burnett, Richard; Neasham, Jeffrey; Hilton, Robert J.

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Ricardo Silva Jacinto

Maarten S. Heijnen

Sophie Hage

Stephen M. Simmons

Martin Hasenhündl

Catharina J. Heerema

Claire McGhee

Ronan Apprioual

Anthony Ferrant

Daniel R. Parsons

Michael A. Clare

Raphael M. Tshimanga

Mark A. Trigg

Costa A. Cula

Rui Faria

Arnaud Gaillot

Gode Bola

Dec Wallance

Allan Griffiths

Robert Nunny

Morelia Urlaub

Richard Burnett

Jeffrey Neasham

Robert J. Hilton


Here we show how major rivers can efficiently connect to the deep-sea, by analysing the longest runout sediment flows (of any type) yet measured in action on Earth. These seafloor turbidity currents originated from the Congo River-mouth, with one flow travelling >1,130 km whilst accelerating from 5.2 to 8.0 m/s. In one year, these turbidity currents eroded 1,338-2,675 [>535-1,070] Mt of sediment from one submarine canyon, equivalent to 19–37 [>7–15] % of annual suspended sediment flux from present-day rivers. It was known earthquakes trigger canyon-flushing flows. We show river-floods also generate canyon-flushing flows, primed by rapid sediment-accumulation at the river-mouth, and sometimes triggered by spring tides weeks to months post-flood. It is demonstrated that strongly erosional turbidity currents self-accelerate, thereby travelling much further, validating a long-proposed theory. These observations explain highly-efficient organic carbon transfer, and have important implications for hazards to seabed cables, or deep-sea impacts of terrestrial climate change.


Talling, P. J., Baker, M. L., Pope, E. L., Ruffell, S. C., Jacinto, R. S., Heijnen, M. S., …Hilton, R. J. (2022). Longest sediment flows yet measured show how major rivers connect efficiently to deep sea. Nature Communications, 13(1),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 24, 2022
Online Publication Date Jul 20, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Aug 2, 2022
Publicly Available Date Aug 2, 2022
Journal Nature Communications
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 13
Issue 1


Published Journal Article (5.6 Mb)

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