Application of the adjoint approach to optimise the initial conditions of a turbidity current with the AdjointTurbidity 1.0 model

Samuel D. Parkinson*, Simon W. Funke, Jon Hill, Matthew D. Piggott, Peter A. Allison

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Turbidity currents are one of the main drivers of sediment transport from the continental shelf to the deep ocean. The resulting sediment deposits can reach hundreds of kilometres into the ocean. Computer models that simulate turbidity currents and the resulting sediment deposit can help us to understand their general behaviour. However, in order to recreate real-world scenarios, the challenge is to find the turbidity current parameters that reproduce the observations of sediment deposits. This paper demonstrates a solution to the inverse sediment transportation problem: for a known sedimentary deposit, the developed model reconstructs details about the turbidity current that produced the deposit. The reconstruction is constrained here by a shallow water sediment-laden density current model, which is discretised by the finite-element method and an adaptive time-stepping scheme. The model is differentiated using the adjoint approach, and an efficient gradient-based optimisation method is applied to identify the turbidity parameters which minimise the misfit between the modelled and the observed field sediment deposits. The capabilities of this approach are demonstrated using measurements taken in the Miocene Marnoso-arenacea Formation (Italy). We find that whilst the model cannot match the deposit exactly due to limitations in the physical processes simulated, it provides valuable insights into the depositional processes and represents a significant advance in our toolset for interpreting turbidity current deposits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1051-1068
Number of pages18
JournalGeoscientific Model Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2017

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