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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: How are submarine slopes pre-conditioned to fail?

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While instantaneous triggers (such as earthquakes) are important in controlling when submarine landslides occur, it is becoming increasingly apparent that sediment preconditioning plays an important role in constraining the location and area of slope affected by a submarine landslide. Of particular interest are specific stratigraphic beds (commonly referred to as weak layers or event beds) that have been seen to control failure depth and the failure mechanism of the overlying material.

High-resolution geophysical data
Fig 1 (Source: M Vardy)

Outline of Work

Numerous surveys have been conducted over several landslide locations in nearshore and offshore areas of Norway. Geological, geotechnical, and very high-resolution geophysical data (Fig1) have been acquired, affording an unprecedented assessment of the factors contributing to landslide initiation.

Decimetre-resolution 3D seismic volume
Fig 2 (Source: L'Heureux et al 2012)






The University of Southampton contributed their geophysical expertise, particularly in the acquisition of a decimetre-resolution 3D seismic volume (Fig2). When combined with geological and geotechnical information (Fig3), these data permit a detailed interpretation of the landsliding process, including the relationship between the regional event bed and landslide glide plane.

Detailed interpretation of the landsliding process
Fig 3 (Source: L'Heureux et al 2012)

Key Findings

  1. The landslide glide plane coincides with the top of a composite bed forming the regional event bed.
  2. This composite bed is sedimentologically and geotechnically distinct from the surrounding, background sediment.
  3. The permeability contrast of this layer and subsequent effect on fluid flow is believed to be a key factor in destabilizing overlying material.

Key Contacts

Dr Mark Vardy

Mr John Davis

Related Project Pages

3D Chirp

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