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Multi-decadal erosion rates from glacierized watersheds on Mount Baker, Washington, USA, reveal topographic, climatic, and lithologic controls on sediment yields

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Author(s): Eli Schwat, Erkan Istanbulluoglu, Alexander Horner-Devine, Scott W. Anderson, Friedrich Knuth, David E. Shean

Document Type:
Publisher: Geomorphology
Published Year: 2023
Volume: 438
DOI Identifier: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2023.108805
ISBN Identifier:
Keywords: Glacier retreat Debris flow Sediment yield Hazards Sedimentation Flooding Cascade volcanoes Climate change

Understanding land surface change in and sediment export out of proglacial landscapes is critical for understanding geohazard and flood risks over engineering timescales and characterizing landscape evolution over geomorphic timescales. We used automated Structure from Motion software to process historical aerial photographs and, with modern lidar data, generated a high-resolution DEM time series with coverage over 10 glacierized watersheds on Mount Baker, Washington, USA for the time period between 1947 and 2015. We measured basin-wide sediment yields and sediment redistribution on hillslopes and in stream channels. Slopes within most measured erosion sites are above theoretical and observed debris-flow thresholds. We observed significant erosion of hillslopes and limited deposition on hillslopes and in stream channels. Sediment delivery ratios during time periods with net erosion averaged 0.73. We determined, consistent with previous field observations, that debris flows originating from moraines are a primary erosion mechanism in proglacial zones on Mount Baker. Time series measurements indicate that temporal variability in erosion rates is associated with climate oscillations, with higher erosion rates during cooler-wetter periods. Basin-wide sediment yield is positively correlated with lithology (r2 = 0.54), hillslope angle (r2 = 0.52), drainage area (r2 = 0.82), and negatively correlated with stream channel slope (r2 = 0.67). Topographic differences between high and low yielding basins indicate that spatial variability in erosion on Mount Baker is sensitive to Pleistocene and Holocene glacial and volcanic activity. Specific sediment yields in six basins averaged 4600 ton/km2/yr, consistent with global measurements in glacierized catchments. Specific sediment yield decreased with increasing basin area, with total loads in the downstream main stem Nooksack River estimated between 480 and 820 ton/km2/yr. Proglacial sediment yields account for between 18 and 32 % of total sediment load in the main stem Nooksack River and exceed contributions by bluff and terrace erosion, which account for between 8 and 13 % of total load. Our findings indicate that erosion in glacierized basins is sensitive to decadal climate oscillations and that high proglacial sediment yields provide an important contribution to river systems downstream, particularly in catchments where upland topography and lithology is favorable.

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Suggested Citations:
In Text Citation:
Schwat and others (2023) or (Schwat et al., 2023)

References Citation:
Schwat, E., E. Istanbulluoglu, A. Horner-Devine, S.W. Anderson, F. Knuth, and D.E. Shean, 2023, Multi-decadal erosion rates from glacierized watersheds on Mount Baker, Washington, USA, reveal topographic, climatic, and lithologic controls on sediment yields: Geomorphology, Vol. 438, doi: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2023.108805.