Benthic storms, nepheloid layers, and linkage with upper ocean dynamics in the western North Atlantic

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Benthic storms
Benthic nepheloid layer
Abyssal currents
Seafloor erosion
Eddy kinetic energy
Benthic storms are episodic periods of strong abyssal currents and intense, benthic nepheloid (turbid) layer development. In order to interpret the driving forces that create and sustain these storms, we synthesize measurements of deep ocean currents, nephelometer-based particulate matter (PM) concentrations, and seafloor time-series photographs collected during several science programs that spanned two decades in the western North Atlantic. Benthic storms occurred in areas with high sea-surface eddy kinetic energy, and they most frequently occurred beneath the meandering Gulf Stream or its associated rings, which generate deep cyclones, anticyclones, and/or topographic waves; these create currents with sufficient bed-shear stress to erode and resuspend sediment, thus initiating or enhancing benthic storms. Occasionally, strong currents do not correspond with large increases in PM concentrations, suggesting that easily erodible sediment was previously swept away. Periods of moderate to low currents associated with high PM concentrations are also observed; these are interpreted as advection of PM delivered as storm tails from distal storm events. Outside of areas with high surface and deep eddy kinetic energy, benthic nepheloid layers are weak to non-existent, indicating that benthic storms are necessary to create and maintain strong nepheloid layers. Origins and intensities of benthic storms are best identified using a combination of time-series measurements of bottom currents, PM concentration, and bottom photographs, and these should be coupled with water-column and surface-circulation data to better interpret the specific relations between shallow and deep circulation patterns. Understanding the generation of benthic nepheloid layers is necessary in order to properly interpret PM distribution and its influence on global biogeochemistry.
© The Author(s), 2017. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Marine Geology 385 (2017): 304–327, doi:10.1016/j.margeo.2016.12.012.
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Marine Geology 385 (2017): 304–327
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