skip to main content

Title: Rates and processes controlling periglacial alluvial fan formation: Implications for martian fans
Alluvial fans are found across a range of climates and are built from a combination of fluvial and debris flow processes. Correct identification of process is critical to reconstructing the climate and water histories of alluvial fans on Earth and Mars. Theory and data from subaerial Earth fans are often used to estimate paleoflow discharges and sediment fluxes for martian fans; however, most terrestrial work has been conducted on fans that are in hot, dry climates with runoff sourced from rainfall. This differs from the prevailing interpretation that martian fans were sourced from snowmelt under warming periglacial conditions. To characterize processes and rates of periglacial fan formation, we conducted a field-based study of the Black Mountain alluvial fan in the Aklavik Range, Canada. We observed active fluvial bedload transport as well as several small debris flows that had initiated from ice-filled gullies. Following a runoff event of ∼0.005 mm/hr to ∼0.2 mm/hr across the fan, we estimated sediment fluxes of ∼0.04 m3/hr. Under bankfull conditions, we estimated runoff rates between ∼0.01 mm/hr to ∼14 mm/hr and corresponding sediment fluxes of ∼0.3 m3/hr to ∼550 m3/hr. This suggests that moderate flow events, well below the maximum runoff production rates suggested for more » Mars, are capable of entraining and transporting appreciable amounts of sediment by fluvial processes. However, sedimentological and geomorphological observations suggest that ∼67% of the fan was deposited fluvially; the remainder was deposited by mass flows. Our results emphasize the need to take care in interpreting martian sedimentary processes and climate from fan surface morphology alone. « less
; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
GSA Bulletin
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    We develop a robust and simple rule‐based algorithm to autonomously simulate alluvial fan deposition and evolution under continuously developing landscape conditions without prescribing deposition locations or imposing topographic constraints. Augmented with this algorithm, landscape evolution models are capable of dynamically detecting locations of potential fan deposition by statistical measures of surface topography and fluvial dynamics, then depositing fan sediments where and when the developed conditions require. To assess the method's efficacy in depositing sediment at a mountain‐valley transition zone characterized by a transport surface that permits unobstructed exit of sediment and water, a hypothetical scenario is created that involves a frontal, normal fault. It is followed by a series of sensitivity analyses to ascertain the influence of parameters affecting fan deposition and secondary processes. Uplift (u) and precipitation significantly impact fan morphological characteristics, which are within the range of real‐world fans. Higher rates of each cause the notable expansion of the fan area except in cases of exceptionally high precipitation rates. Fan area has a power‐law relationship with most of the tested parameters, , where is erodibility (lithology), and are fluvial parameters, and is catchment area (~0.9). This study is the first showcasing fan power‐law relationships using numerical modelling.more »While fan area increases with precipitation, there exists a threshold beyond which fan area diminishes, and the formation of fans ceases altogether. The algorithm provides a basis for improving mechanistic understanding of fans by offering a robust platform for testing process dominance and scaling. The results demonstrate its applicability for landscape evolution simulation over a long time and broad spatial scales. We also investigate the hydrological significance of including autonomously generated alluvial fans in coupled landscape evolution—hydrology models that focus on groundwater as well as surface water hydrology.

    « less
  2. Earth has sustained continental glaciation several times in its past. Because continental glaciers ground to low elevations, sedimentary records of ice contact can be preserved from regions that were below base level, or subject to subsidence. In such regions, glaciated pavements, ice-contact deposits such as glacial till with striated clasts, and glaciolacustrine or glaciomarine strata with dropstones reveal clear signs of former glaciation. But assessing upland (mountain) glaciation poses particular challenges because elevated regions typically erode, and thus have extraordinarily poor preservation potential. Here we propose approaches for detecting the former presence of glaciation in the absence or near-absence of ice-contact indicators; we apply this specifically to the problem of detecting upland glaciation, and consider the implications for Earth’s climate system. Where even piedmont regions are eroded, pro- and periglacial phenomena will constitute the primary record of upland glaciation. Striations on large (pebble and larger) clasts survive only a few km of fluvial transport, but microtextures developed on quartz sand survive longer distances of transport, and record high-stress fractures consistent with glaciation. Proglacial fluvial systems can be difficult to distinguish from non-glacial systems, but a preponderance of facies signaling abundant water and sediment, such as hyperconcentrated flood flows, non-cohesive fine-grainedmore »debris flows, and/or large-scale and coarse-grained cross-stratification are consistent with proglacial conditions, especially in combination with evidence for cold temperatures, such as rip-up clasts composed of noncohesive sediment, indicating frozen conditions, and/or evidence for a predominance of physical over chemical weathering. Other indicators of freezing (periglacial) conditions include frozen-ground phenomena such as fossil ice wedges and ice crystals. Voluminous loess deposits and eolian-marine silt/mudstone characterized by silt modes, a significant proportion of primary silicate minerals, and a provenance from non-silt precursors can indicate the operation of glacial grinding, even though such deposits may be far removed from the site(s) of glaciation. Ultimately, in the absence of unambiguous ice-contact indicators, inferences of glaciation must be grounded on an array of observations that together record abundant meltwater, temperatures capable of sustaining glaciation, and glacial weathering (e.g., glacial grinding). If such arguments are viable, they can bolster the accuracy of past climate models, and guide climate modelers in assessing the types of forcings that could enable glaciation at elevation, as well as the extent to which (extensive) upland glaciation might have influenced global climate.« less
  3. Abstract The process of river avulsion builds floodplains and fills alluvial basins. We report on a new style of river avulsion identified in the Landsat satellite record. We found 69 examples of retrogradational avulsions on rivers of densely forested fluvial fans in the Andean and New Guinean alluvial basins. Retrogradational avulsions are initiated by a channel blockage, e.g., a logjam, that fills the channel with sediment and forces water overbank (dechannelization), which creates a chevron-shaped flooding pattern. Dechannelization waves travel upstream at a median rate of 387 m/yr and last on average for 13 yr; many rivers show multiple dechannelizing events on the same reach. Dechannelization ends and the avulsion is complete when the river finds a new flow path. We simulate upstream-migrating dechannelization with a one-dimensional morphodynamic model for open channel flow. Observations are consistent with model results and show that channel blockages can cause dechannelization on steep (10−2 to 10−3), low-discharge (~101 m3 s−1) rivers. This illustrates a new style of floodplain sedimentation that is unaccounted for in ecologic and stratigraphic models.
  4. Abstract

    Steep channel networks commonly show a transition from constant‐gradient colluvial channels associated with debris flow activity to concave‐up fluvial channels downstream. The trade‐off between debris flow and fluvial erosion in steep channels remains unclear, which obscures connections among topography, tectonics, and climate in steep landscapes. Here, we analyze steep debris‐flow‐prone channels across the western United States and observe: (1) similar maximum channel gradients across a range of catchment erosion rates and geologic settings; and (2) lengthening colluvial channels with coarsening sediment cover. Following this compilation, we hypothesize that steep channel gradients are controlled by two competing thresholds of motion for bed‐sediment cover: bed failure by mass‐wasting and fluvial entrainment. We use downstream patterns in discharge, channel geometry, and sediment size to calculate discharges needed to mobilize sediment cover by both mechanisms across channels in the San Gabriel Mountains (SGM) and northern San Jacinto Mountains (NSJM) in southern California. Across steep colluvial channels in both landscapes, decadal discharges are below fluvial entrainment thresholds but above mass‐wasting entrainment thresholds for (median) sediment sizes, consistent with recent debris flows captured by repeat imagery. Colluvial channel gradient is similar despite > 3× contrasts in surface sediment grain size. In concave‐up fluvial channels downstream, decadal discharges exceed fluvialmore »entrainment thresholds, and mass‐wasting is not predicted on lower gradients. In both landscapes, fluvial channels steepen downstream compared to gradients needed to mobilize sediment cover, which we interpret to reflect downstream increases in sediment flux. Coarser sediment supply in the NSJM than the SGM increases fluvial entrainment thresholds, which increases total channel relief in the NSJM by (1) lengthening colluvial channels shaped by debris flows and (2) increasing fluvial channel gradients. Our compilation and downstream analysis show how differing sensitivity of fluvial and debris flow processes to sediment grain size impacts the relative relief of colluvial and fluvial regimes in headwater channel networks.

    « less
  5. Abstract
    Excessive phosphorus (P) applications to croplands can contribute to eutrophication of surface waters through surface runoff and subsurface (leaching) losses. We analyzed leaching losses of total dissolved P (TDP) from no-till corn, hybrid poplar (Populus nigra X P. maximowiczii), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), miscanthus (Miscanthus giganteus), native grasses, and restored prairie, all planted in 2008 on former cropland in Michigan, USA. All crops except corn (13 kg P ha−1 year−1) were grown without P fertilization. Biomass was harvested at the end of each growing season except for poplar. Soil water at 1.2 m depth was sampled weekly to biweekly for TDP determination during March–November 2009–2016 using tension lysimeters. Soil test P (0–25 cm depth) was measured every autumn. Soil water TDP concentrations were usually below levels where eutrophication of surface waters is frequently observed (> 0.02 mg L−1) but often higher than in deep groundwater or nearby streams and lakes. Rates of P leaching, estimated from measured concentrations and modeled drainage, did not differ statistically among cropping systems across years; 7-year cropping system means ranged from 0.035 to 0.072 kg P ha−1 year−1 with large interannual variation. Leached P was positively related to STP, which decreased over the 7 years in all systems. These results indicate that both P-fertilized and unfertilized cropping systems mayMore>>