The team discovered that Agadir Canyon produced the world's largest sediment flow about 60,000 years ago, depositing up to 38 cubic miles (160 cubic km) of sludge during a single catastrophic landslide.
Powerful flows from the Atlas Mountains of Northwest Africa carried sand and gravel to deep offshore basins nearly 3,000 miles (5,000 km) beneath the sea surface, depositing the sediment over 135,000 square miles (350,000 square km) -- an area roughly the size of Germany.
The team also found a gigantic new landslide south of the canyon that covers more than 2,000 square miles (5,000 square km) of seafloor, about the size of the state of Delaware. This flow didn't mix with the other flows, but blocked up the end of the canyon, "like toothpaste," Wynn said. Preliminary data suggest the flow is quite ancient, at least 130,000 years old, he added.
Understanding the canyon's topography could be useful when laying Internet cables and other infrastructure, to account for geological hazards.
Agadir Canyon is also a rich biological ecosystem, home to deepwater corals, fish and beaked whales. "At Agadir, no one has ever done any biological work," Wynn said, adding that the new maps will help researchers investigate the region's ecosystems in more detail and aid in their conservation.