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Controls on debris flow bulking in proglacial gullies on Mount Rainier, Washington

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Author(s): Nicholas T. Legg, Andrew J. Meigs, Gordon E. Grant, Paul M. Kennard

Category: POSTER
Document Type: Abstract #EP13A-0812
Publisher: American Geophysical Union
Published Year: 2012
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Conversion of floodwaters to debris flows due to sediment bulking continues to be a poorly understood phenomenon. This study examines the initiation zone of a series of six debris flows that originated in proglacial areas of catchments on the flank of Mount Rainier during one storm in 2006. One-meter spatial resolution aerial photographs and LiDAR DEMs acquired before and after the storm reveal the lack of a single mass failure to explain the debris flow deposits. Rather, the imagery show appreciable gully widening along reaches up to approximately 1.5 km in length. Based on gully discharges estimated from rainfall rates and estimates of sediment contribution from gully wall width change, we find that the sediment volumes contributed from gully walls are sufficient to bulk floodwaters up to debris flow concentrations. Points in gullies where width change began (upstream limit) in 2006 have a power law trend (R2 = 0.58) in terms of slope-drainage area. Reaches with noticeable width change, which we refer to as bulking reaches (BR), plot along a similar trend with greater drainage areas and gentler slopes. We then extracted slope and drainage area of all proglacial drainage networks to examine differences in morphology between debris flow basins (DFB) and non-debris flow basins (NDFB), hypothesizing that DFB would have a greater portion of their drainage networks with similar morphology to BR than NDFB. A comparison of total network length with greater slope and area than BR reveals that the two basins types are not statistically different. Lengths of the longest reaches with greater slope and drainage area than the BR trend, however, are statistically longer in DFB than in the NDFBs (p<0.05). These results suggest that debris flow initiation by sediment bulking does not operate as a simple threshold phenomenon in slope-area space. Instead debris flow initiation via bulking depends upon slope, drainage area, and gully length. We suspect the dependence on length relates to the poorly understood bulking process where feedback mechanisms working to progressively increase sediment concentrations likely operate. The apparent length dependence revealed in this study requires a shift in thought about the conditions leading to debris flow generation in catchments dominated by unconsolidated and transportable material.

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In Text Citation:
Legg and others (2012) or (Legg et al., 2012)

References Citation:
Legg, N.T., A.J. Meigs, G.E. Grant, and P.M. Kennard, 2012, Controls on debris flow bulking in proglacial gullies on Mount Rainier, Washington: Abstract #EP13A-0812, American Geophysical Union,