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Quantifying erosion rates by using terrestrial laser scanning at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, Nevada County, California, 2014–17

December 31, 2019

The abandoned hydraulic mine pit at Malakoff Diggins near Grass Valley, California, can produce large volumes of eroded sediment transportable by storm runoff. Sediment-laden water discharged from the pit is a major source of heavy metals to Humbug Creek and the South Yuba River. To develop a comprehensive sediment budget for the Malakoff Diggins mine pit and identify sources of sediment and metals within the pit that can become entrained as suspended sediment in runoff discharged from the pit, the U.S. Geological Survey, working in cooperation with the California Department of Water Resources, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Nevada Irrigation District, used terrestrial laser scanning technology to quantify eroded volumes and erosion rates of sedimentary units exposed in the pit walls. The results for eroded volumes and rates reported here are part one of a three-part study.

High-resolution terrestrial laser scanning surveys were repeated annually from 2014 through 2017, including before and after dry and wet winters, measuring centimeter-scale topographic changes to quantify the volume of sediment eroded from outcrops at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, located on the western slope of the northern Sierra Nevada about 17 kilometers northeast of Grass Valley, California. Terrestrial laser scanning enabled construction of three-dimensional maps of the complex outcrop surfaces, which could not be mapped non-destructively or in sufficient detail with traditional surveying techniques. Eroded volumes from discrete sedimentary units were calculated at four study sites (numbered 1, 2, 4, and 5) throughout the mine pit for the December 2014 to August 2017 period.

Eroded volumes at the four study sites during the 32-month study ranged from 288 plus or minus (±) 13 cubic meters (m3) of sediment at site 1 to 8,517±145 m3 at site 4. Annual erosion rates at the four study sites ranged from 0.06±0.01 cubic meters per square meter per year (m3/m2/yr) at site 4 to 0.14±0.01 m3/m2/yr at site 2. The total eroded volume documented with terrestrial laser scanning at all four study sites from December 2014 to August 2017 was 12,934±334 m3 of sediment, and the average annual erosion rate for the four study sites was 0.10±0.04 m3/m2/yr.

Horizontal erosional-change maps indicate that a variety of erosional processes were responsible for the eroded sediment volume. These included areally broad and smaller-scale processes such as persistent dry ravel, periodic sheet wash, and frost heave and more localized and larger-scale processes such as coalescing fluvial incision, rotational landslides, and translational block-fall failures.

Publication Year 2019
Title Quantifying erosion rates by using terrestrial laser scanning at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, Nevada County, California, 2014–17
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191124
Authors James F. Howle, Charles N. Alpers, Alfred J. Ward, Sandra Bond, Jennifer A. Curtis
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2019-1124
Index ID ofr20191124
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center