Sediment undulations on the Llobregat prodelta: Signs of early slope instability or sedimentary bedforms?


A field of sediment undulations has been mapped by means of high‐resolution multibeam bathymetry and seismic reflection profiles in the Llobregat River prodelta, off the city of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Similar features had previously been recognized in other prodelta environments and interpreted either as downslope sediment deformation or sedimentary structures induced by bottom currents or hyperpycnal flows. Since the study area is undergoing significant offshore development, proper interpretation of such sediment undulations is needed for a correct risk assessment. The occurrence of the sediment undulations is restricted to the prodelta front on slope gradients between 3 and 0.2°. The undulations have developed at the edge and atop an area of gas bearing sediments within the Late Holocene high‐stand mud wedge. An evaluation is made of the characteristics of the sediment undulations in order to determine the most likely process for the origin of these structures. Among these characteristics are the continuity of the reflections and lack of diffractions in between different undulations, their size distribution (large to small) both from shallow to deep and with depth in section, the asymmetry (decreasing from proximal to distal), the crest to trough vertical distance on the landward side of the undulations (up to 0.5 m), and the lack of features that could indicate a progressive movement such as growth structures and drag folds. These characteristics indicate that the sediment undulations on the Llobregat River prodelta do not result from sediment deformation but rather from the interaction of bottom currents generated by hyperpycnal flows from the Llobregat River with regional sea water circulation. Their identification as sediment waves implies that such features do not pose a major hazard for further offshore development.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth



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