Submarine Mass Transport Within Monterey Canyon: Benthic Disturbance Controls on the Distribution of Chemosynthetic Biological Communities


Documenting mass transport within Monterey Canyon and Fan has been a focus of remotely operated vehicle (ROV) observations, sampling, monitoring, and multibeam mapping studies. These efforts indicate that major mass transport events occur within upper Monterey Canyon (<2 km water depths) with a sub-annual recurrence frequency. However, 14C-stratigraphies indicate that a sand carrying event has not penetrated through lower Monterey Canyon (>2 km water depths) and onto Monterey Fan for ~100 years. Simultaneous efforts to document the distribution of benthic taxa observed in the video records from 668 ROV dives conducted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) provide a uniquely detailed record of the occurrence of chemosynthetic biological communities (CBC). The combined results of these studies provide an understanding of the relationship between disturbance caused by episodic mass wasting events and the distribution of CBC. CBC are common within the canyon's axis below ~2.5 km water depth, but have not been found within the canyon's axis at depths shallower than 2 km. Moreover, CBC occur on the canyon walls at essentially any depth, primarily within young (~hundreds of years old) slump scars. The distribution of CBC provides evidence about the disturbance history of the seafloor. Major mass transport events will destroy communities that lie in their path. Erosion associated with major mass transport events can create environments to support CBC by exposing methane-bearing strata. This can happen as a result of slumping events on the sidewalls of the canyon or where major gravity flow events have excavated the base of canyon walls. Once fresh strata are exposed, geochemical conditions to support CBC will persist for a few centuries. Because CBC are composed of slow-growing and long-lived organisms, it will take decades for these communities to be established. Their existence indicates that environmental stability has occurred over a similar time scale.


Earth Sciences

Publication Date


Journal Title

Submarine Mass Movements and Their Consequences. Advances in Natural and Technological Hazards Research, vol 28



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type

Book Chapter


© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010