© 2016 Elsevier B.V. Sediment transport-induced changes to the embedment of three 26 km long sections of subsea pipeline are analysed and subsequently explained using model scale experiments. Rather than the scour and scour-induced sinking and sagging traditionally thought to dominate post-lay pipeline spanning and embedment change, the change for these pipelines is shown to be caused by sedimentation. The pipelines traverse a range of metocean and soil conditions; the variation in embedment correlates well with the variation in metocean conditions, with most change occurring in an area where multidirectional high-velocity short-duration flows associated with internal waves propagate at near-perpendicular angles to the pipeline. To understand the mechanism driving these changes, a series of model scale tests in O-tube flumes have been completed under flow conditions mimicking those recorded in the field. Good agreement is found between the field and laboratory results, both in terms of the process timescale and the post-sedimentation profile. The consistency of the embedment changes between the pipelines, their correlation with metocean conditions, and the ability to replicate these changes in model scale tests suggests that such changes can be accounted for in more effective pipeline design. Spans are relatively rare along the pipelines but where they do occur fish rather than scour are shown to be the principal agent of span formation.