The continental shelf and the upper slope of the Gulf of Palermo (Southern Tyrrhenian Sea) in the depth interval ranging from 50 to 1,500 m were mapped for the first time with Multi Beam echosounder and high resolution seismic. Seven submarine canyons are confined to the upper slope or indent the shelf-edge and enter the Palermo intraslope basin at a depth of around 1,300 m. The canyons evolved through concurrent top-down turbiditic processes and bottom-up retrogressive mass failures. Most of the mass failure features of the area are related to canyon-shaping processes and only few of them are not confined to the upper slope. In general, these features probably do not represent a significant tsunami hazard along the coast. The geological element that controls the evolution of the canyons and induces sediment instability corresponds to the steep slope gradient, especially in the western sector of the Gulf, where the steepest canyons are located. The structural features mapped in the Palermo offshore contributed to the regulation of mass failure processes in the area, with direct faults and antiform structures coinciding with some of the canyon heads. Furthermore, the occurrence of pockmarks and highs that probably consist of authigenic carbonates above faulted and folded strata suggests a local relationship between structural control, fluid escape processes and mass failure. This paper presents a valuable high-resolution morphologic dataset of the Gulf of Palermo, which constitutes a reliable base for evaluating the geo-hazard potential related to slope failure in the area.
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