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Open-File Report 01-190

The STRATAFORM Project: U.S. Geological Survey Geotechnical Studies

By Diane L. Minasian, Homa J. Lee, Jaques Locat, Kevin M. Orzech, Gregory R. Martz,
and Kenneth Israel

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This report presents physical property logs of core samples from an offshore area near Eureka, CA. The cores were obtained as part of the STRATAFORM Program (Nittrouer and Kravitz, 1995, 1996), a study investigating how present sedimentation and sediment transport processes influence long-term stratigraphic sequences preserved in the geologic record. The core samples were collected during four separate research cruises to the northern California study area, and data shown in the logs of the cores were collected using a multi-sensor whole core logger. The physical properties collected are useful in identifying stratigraphic units, ground-truthing acoustic imagery and sub-bottom profiles, and in understanding mass movement processes.

STRATA FORmation on Margins was initiated in 1994 by the Office of Naval Research, Marine Geology and Geophysics Department as a coordinated multi-investigator study of continental-margin sediment transport processes and stratigraphy (Nittrouer and Kravitz, 1996). The program is investigating the stratigraphic signature of the shelf and slope parts of the continental margins, and is designed to provide a better understanding of the sedimentary record and a better prediction of strata. Specifically, the goals of the STRATAFORM Program are to (Nittrouer and Kravitz, 1995):

  • determine the geological relevance of short-term physical processes that erode, transport, and deposit particles and those processes that subsequently rework the seabed over time scales <10 2 years.
  • improve capabilities for identifying the processes that form the strata observed within the upper ~100 m of the seabed commonly representing 104-106 years of sedimentation.
  • synthesize this knowledge and bridge the gap between time scales of sedimentary processes and those of sequence stratigraphy.

The STRATAFORM Program is divided into studies of the continental shelf and the continental slope; the geotechnical group within the U.S. Geological Survey provides support to both parts of the project.

Continental Slope Overview

The dominant processes that affect the stratigraphic record on continental slopes are gravity driven and commonly involve mass movements of sediments by creep, slumps, slides, debris flows, and/or turbidity currents (Pratson et al; 1996). Collectively, these processes are a major force in sculpting continental slope morphology; their occurrence dictates where sediment is preserved on slopes and where it is not. A goal of STRATAFORM, with respect to the continental slope, is an improved understanding of the relationship between sedimentation and the morphology of slopes. Such knowledge can lead to predicting the occurrence of mass wasting, and can be used to determine what role these events play in continental slope evolution. This goal is being met by pursuing several key objectives, which are (Pratson et al; 1996):
  • Quantify the causes of slope failure;
  • Document the mechanics and progression of mass movements caused by slope failure;
  • Determine how mass movements link to slope morphology and stratigraphy.

Continental Shelf Overview

On the continental shelf, bed modifications in sediment deposits include erosion and deposition of bed material, formation of graded storm beds, and changes in small-scale surface morphology. A major cause of these modifications is sediment resuspension during transport events (Wiberg et al; 1996). Sediment transport on the shelf is influenced by several factors, including surface-wave conditions, bottom-boundary-layer currents, fluid stratification, and individual bed characteristics. The resulting changes they cause to the stratigraphic record can help in describing the magnitude and frequency of these events. A goal of STRATAFORM, with respect to the continental shelf, is to link sediment transport processes active on the shelf to the formation and preservation of event beds in shelf sediment deposits (Wiberg et al; 1996).

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Study Area

The Northern California study area, located off the coast of Eureka, between Cape Mendocino and Trinidad Head, is an ideal location to investigate the occurrence of mass wasting and sediment transport and deposition (Nittrouer and Kravitz, 1996). This seismically active area receives an abundant amount of fluvial sediment, primarily from the Eel River (mean sediment discharge >107 t/y). Moreover, sediment is reaching the slope and accumulating at a relatively rapid rate of 1-4 mmy-1 (Alexander, 1996). The combination of this rapid sedimentation with frequent earthquake activity can cause slope deposits to fail. Because many shelf and slope sedimentary processes are active in this region, it makes it an excellent area to study geotechnical impact on the strata (Nittrouer and Kravitz, 1996). Index map of study area.

Sampling Procedures

Sampling of the sea floor was accomplished by using three different types of coring devices, - a box core sampler, a piston core sampler, and the Lehigh gravity corer. The box core takes relatively short (<60 cm) essentially undisturbed samples of the sea floor (Rosfelder and Marshall, 1967). The sampling box is a hollow steel-walled rectangle mounted beneath a weight column. When deployed from the ship, the box core device is lowered to the sea floor via a winch cable. The support frame comes to rest on the sea floor and the weight column slides downward through the guide into the frame, driving the sampling box into the sea floor sediment. To remove the coring device without losing the sample through the bottom of the box, the winch wire is taken in and a spade arm that is wired to the weight column closes beneath the base of the box (Rosfelder and Marshall, 1967). The box core device and sediment are then returned to the ship's deck. Once on deck, a piston-driven sub-sampling devise is used to take whole round cylindrical sub-cores from within the box. The sub-cores are then run through the multi-sensor logger.

The piston core device consists simply of a weight stand mounted above a length of stainless steel core barrel (Kullenburg, 1955). A plastic liner, housing a fitted piston, is inserted into the core barrel to contain the sample. The lifting cable is fitted into a trigger arm with a slack loop and tension is applied by a separate trigger weight. Then, the device is lowered to the sea floor at a constant velocity and the trigger weight is allowed to impact the sea floor releasing the trigger arm and allowing the corer to free-fall a calibrated distance to the sea floor. While penetrating, the piston creates a partial vacuum state within the core liner, thus improving the amount of sample recovered (Noorany, 1972). The device is then returned to the ship's deck, where the sediment core is removed from the core barrel. The sediment cores are then run through the multi-sensor logger. These physical property results have been used to develop a better understanding of spatial variability of marine sediment properties (Goff et al., 2002). They have also been used as a basis for developing a method for predicting the regional variability of submarine landslide susceptibility (Lee et al., 1999, 2000). Other investigators within the STRATAFORM Program use these physical property data to estimate variations in stratigraphic characteristics both with depth below the seafloor and over the Northern California study area.

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Sediment cores were logged to gather data of physical properties in conjunction with four cruises to the Eel margin study area (Northern California study area): the first aboard the R/V Wecoma in 1995(W9509), the second from the R/V Thomas Thompson in 1996 (TNO62), the third aboard the R/V Melville in 1997 (M9707), and the latest again aboard the R/V Wecoma in 1998 (W9807A). Homa J. Lee was the principle investigator from the USGS on each of the cruises, accompanied by principle investigators from other institutions. Numerous USGS employees also participated in the cruises. The following, delineated by the respective STRATAFORM IDs of each cruise (USGS IDs are in parentheses), summarizes the goals and subsequent accomplishments of the cruises.

W9505 (w-3-95-nc) (metadata)

The first major research cruise of the STRATAFORM project took place on the R/V Wecoma in September 1995. Operated by Oregon State University, the cruise consisted of 17 scientists from several institutions involved in the project. Representing the USGS geotechnical team were Homa J. Lee and Kenneth Israel. Sampling was concentrated on obtaining box cores of the study area, along with several Kasten cores, CTDs, and a few piston cores. The cruise was separated into two legs, with sampling operations taking place on the second leg, starting on September 16 and continuing until September 24, 1995. During the cruise, one hundred and forty-eight box cores, ten Kasten cores, and five piston cores were successfully collected, along with ten CTD casts.

TNO62 (t-1-96-nc) (metadata)

The R/V Thomas G. Thompson cruise took place in July 1996, departing from San Diego, CA on July 8, 1996 and arriving in Seattle, WA on July 22, 1996, with an intermediate port stop at Eureka, CA. The cruise was conducted in coordination with the University of Washington and consisted of several distinct scientific programs. The Chief Scientist for the cruise was Clark R. Alexander from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. He was joined by Homa J. Lee and Kenneth Israel from the USGS geotechnical team, as well as Jacques Locat and Marie-Claude Savoie from the University of Laval, Quebec, Canada. The objective of the cruise was to continue sampling the area through box and piston coring, along with mooring deployments and recoveries, Hydrosweep swath bathymetry, and CTD casts. Sampling operations commenced on July 13 and ended on July 18, with the above mentioned participants leaving the ship at the intermediate port stop. During the cruise, twenty box cores, twelve piston cores, and three Kasten cores were successfully collected, along with four CTD casts.

M9707 (m-1-97-nc) (metadata)

The third cruise took place in July 1997 aboard the R/V Melville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Charles Nittrouer, STRATAFORM Program Coordinator, was the Chief Scientist. Representing the USGS geotechnical team were Homa J. Lee, Kenneth Israel, and Gregory Martz. The objectives of the cruise were to conduct a statistical variability study (Goff et al., 2002) of the area by collecting multiple samples at individual locations and to collect several box and piston cores at other locations on the shelf and slope. During the twelve day cruise, 158 box cores and 58 piston cores were collected successfully.

W9807A (w-2-98-nc) (metadata)

The most recent cruise of the STRATAFORM project took place again aboard the R/V Wecoma in July 1998. The principle investigators were Homa Lee of the USGS and Clark R. Alexander from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Also participating from the USGS were Gita Dunhill and Brad Carkin. Jacques Locat and Eric Boulanger from the University of Laval, Quebec, Canada, Harold Christian from GSC, and Brian McAdoo, of Vasser College, also participated in the cruise with their own scientific agendas. Sampling centered around obtaining box cores of the study area, along with Lehigh cores, CTDs, and piezometer readings. The cruise commenced on July 17 and was completed on July 24.
CLICK HERE TO LINK WITH INDEX MAP OF STUDY AREA Index map To view the procedures used for editing, graphing, naming and working with STRATAFORM logger data CLICK HERE.

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The STRATAFORM program is a multi-investigator study that is primarily funded by the Office of Naval Research. The program began in 1994 with Joseph H. Kravitz as the ONR Program Director and Charles A. Nittrouer (presently of the University of Washington) as Program Coordinator. Roy Wilkins, Jill Karsten, Dawn Lavoie, Stephen Martin, and Thomas Drake have subsequently been ONR program directors. All of their support is gratefully acknowledged. Support for the USGS portion of the program was provided by the Office of Naval Research and the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program.

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Pratson, L.F., Lee, H.J., Parker, G., Garcia, M.H., Coakley, B.J., Mohrig, D., Locat, J., Mello, U., Parsons, J.D., Choi, S-U, and Israel, K., 1996. Mass-movements on submarine slopes, Oceanography, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 168-172.

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[Introduction] [Scientific Approach] [Core Data] [Acknowledgments] [ References & Publications]


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