Multiple failure styles related to shallow gas and fluid venting, upper slope Canadian Beaufort Sea, northern Canada


The continental slope of the Canadian Beaufort Sea presents an exceptional opportunity to study the relationship between the fluid venting and the formation of mass-transport deposits. The continental shelf was emergent and partially ice-free during the last glaciation and is underlain by widespread permafrost. Water-column backscatter has shown the locations of more than 40 active gas vents along seaward margin of the subsea permafrost at the shelf break and upper slope. New multibeam bathymetry and subbottom profiler data show shallow potentially late Holocene failures and mass-transport deposits on the upper slope. Upslope from a prominent headscarp, undulating seabed with apparent growth faults overlies an acoustically incoherent to stratified horizon at 50 m sub-bottom interpreted as a decollement surface over which progressive creep has occurred. Similar creep is present in places on the upper slope and in places seems to have evolved into small translational slides, involving more compacted sediment buried > 25 m, or into muddy debris flows where sediments buried < 25 m have failed. Much of the slope failed during a regional retrogressive event, the Ikit slump, likely initiated on steep channel walls on the lower slope. Characteristic ridge and trough morphology resulting from retrogressive spreading or rotational slumping are preserved on gradients < 2° on the upper slope, but appear to have been completely evacuated on gradients of 3° on the mid slope, where muddy debris-flow deposits are found. Correlations between radiocarbon dated cores and sub-bottom profiles show that the retrogressive failure occurred in the last 1000 years. This study implies that Holocene shelf break and upper slope stability in the Beaufort Sea are strongly linked to the dynamics of the permafrost and the presence of weak, gas-rich sediments. It demonstrates that creep deformation evolves into either muddy debris flows or translational slides, dependent on sediment strength.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

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Marine Geology



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