Sediment transport along the Cap de Creus Canyon flank during a mild, wet winter
Abstract. Cap de Creus Canyon (CCC) is known as a preferential conduit for particulate matter leaving the Gulf of Lion continental shelf towards the slope and the basin, particularly in winter when storms and dense shelf water cascading coalesce to enhance the seaward export of shelf waters. During the CASCADE (CAscading, Storm, Convection, Advection and Downwelling Events) cruise in March 2011, deployments of recording instruments within the canyon and vertical profiling of the water column properties were conducted to study with high spatial-temporal resolution the impact of such processes on particulate matter fluxes. In the context of the mild and wet 2010–2011 winter, no remarkable dense shelf water formation was observed. On the other hand, the experimental setup allowed for the study of the impact of E-SE storms on the hydrographical structure and the particulate matter fluxes in the CCC. The most remarkable feature in terms of sediment transport was a period of dominant E-SE winds from 12 to 16 March, including two moderate storms (maximum significant wave heights = 4.1–4.6 m). During this period, a plume of freshened, relatively cold and turbid water flowed at high speeds along the southern flank of the CCC in an approximate depth range of 150–350 m. The density of this water mass was lighter than the ambient water in the canyon, indicating that it did not cascade off-shelf and that it merely downwelled into the canyon forced by the strong cyclonic circulation induced over the shelf during the storms and by the subsequent accumulation of seawater along the coast. Suspended sediment load in this turbid intrusion recorded along the southern canyon flank oscillated between 10 and 50 mg L−1, and maximum currents speeds reached values up to 90 cm s−1. A rough estimation of 105 tons of sediment was transported through the canyon along its southern wall during a 3-day-long period of storm-induced downwelling. Following the veering of the wind direction (from SE to NW) on 16 March, downwelling ceased, currents inside the canyon reversed from down- to up-canyon, and the turbid shelf plume was evacuated from the canyon, most probably flowing along the southern canyon flank and being entrained by the general SW circulation after leaving the canyon confinement. This study highlights that remarkable sediment transport occurs in the CCC, and particularly along its southern flank, even during mild and wet winters, in absence of cascading and under limited external forcing. The sediment transport associated with eastern storms like the ones described in this paper tends to enter the canyon by its downstream flank, partially affecting the canyon head region. Sediment transport during these events is not constrained near the seafloor but distributed in a depth range of 200–300 m above the bottom. Our paper broadens the understanding of the complex set of atmosphere-driven sediment transport processes acting in this highly dynamic area of the northwestern Mediterranean Sea.