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The abyssal giant sinkholes of the Blake Bahama Escarpment: evidence of focused deep-ocean carbonate dissolution

Abstract : This study reports the discovery of abyssal giant depressions located at the toe of the Bahamian carbonate platform, along the Blake Bahama structurally-controlled Escarpment (BBE) that exhibits up to 4 km of submarine elevation above the San Salvador Abyssal Plain (SSAP). Analysis of seismic reflection and bathymetric data collected during the CARAMBAR 2 cruise revealed the presence of 29 submarine depressions; their water depths range from 4584 m to 4967 m whereas their negative reliefs are elliptical in shape, range in diameter from 255 m to 1819 m, and in depth from 30 m to 185 m. The depression alignment trends are parallel to the BBE as well as to structural lineaments of the area, exclusively between 2200 and 5000 m from its toe, and overlies a buried carbonate bench in which a high-amplitude seismic anomaly has been detected. The depression density interestingly increases where the recognized structural lineaments intersect the BBE. Based on their physical attributes (i.e. location, jagged morphologies, water depths), we interpret these depressions as collapse sinkholes rather than pockmarks or plunge pools. The aforementioned observations suggest an atypical relationship between the spatial occurrence of the giant abyssal sinkholes, the carbonate platform tectonic structures, the buried carbonate bench that underlies the hemipelagites in the SSAP and the geomorphology of the area. According to the wider literature that reports fluid seepages along submarine carbonate escarpments, we propose that the ground water entrance during low sea-level stands, the dissolution of evaporites by meteoric water, the platform-scale thermal convection and the seawater entrance at the platform edge most probably collectively act in concert to favor the circulation of brines and therefore the corrosion within the Bahamian carbonate platform. These mechanisms are particularly efficient along the structural heterogeneities (e.g. the Sunniland Fracture Zone, SFZ) which act as fluid conduits localizing the dissolution and control the physiography of the area by maintaining the location of the sedimentary pathways. The dense fluids would migrate along the faults towards the BBE free edge and are subsequently trapped into the buried carbonate bench that laterally disappears below the low-permeability deep-sea hemipelagites of the SSAP. In consequence, the trapped corrosive fluids dissolve the carbonates preferentially along the tectonic structures such as the SFZ. They are this way at the origin of the BBE curvature and generate collapse-structures in the overlying fine-grained deposits finally resulting in the formation of giant abyssal sinkholes. This structurally-directed process of dissolution seems efficient to provide a brines density head to move out down to >4.5 km of water depth and is believed to have played a major role in the BBE 5-6 km erosional retreat.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, May 25, 2022 - 2:52:51 PM
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Thibault Cavailhes, Hervé Gillet, Léa Guiastrennec-Faugas, Thierry Mulder, Vincent Hanquiez. The abyssal giant sinkholes of the Blake Bahama Escarpment: evidence of focused deep-ocean carbonate dissolution. Geomorphology, 2022, 398, ⟨10.1016/j.geomorph.2021.108058⟩. ⟨insu-03678660⟩



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