Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Aggradation and degradation of alluvial sand deposits, 1965 to 1986, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

January 1, 1994

Alluvial sand deposits along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park are used as campsites and are substrate for vegetation. The largest and most numerous of these deposits are formed in zones of recirculating current that are created downstream from where the channel is constricted by debris fans at tributary mouths. Alluvial sand deposits are classified by location and form. Separation and reattachment deposits are downstream from constrictions within recirculation zones. Separation deposits are near the point of flow separation and typically mantle large debris fans.

Reattachment deposits are near the point of flow reattachment and project upstream beneath much of the zone of recirculating current. Upper-pool deposits are upstream from a constriction and are associated with backwaters. Channel-margin deposits line the channel and have the form of terraces. Some are created in small recirculation zones. Reattachment and channel-margin deposits are largest and most numerous in wide reaches, although small channel-margin deposits are used as campsites in the narrow Muav Gorge. Separation deposits are more uniformly distributed throughout Grand Canyon National Park than are other types of deposits. In some narrow reaches where the number of alluvial sand deposits used as campsites is small, separation deposits are a high percentage of the total.

During high flows, both separation and reattachment deposits are initially scoured but are subsequently redeposited during flow recession. Sand is also exchanged between the main channel and recirculation zones. The rate of recession of high flows can affect the elevation of alluvial deposits that are left exposed after a flood has passed. Fluctuating flows that follow a period of steady discharge cause initial erosion of separation and reattachment deposits. A part of this eroded sand is transported to the main channel. Therefore, sand is exchanged between the main channel and recirculation zones and redistributed within recirculation zones over a broad range of discharges.

Comparison of aerial photographs and reinterpretation of published data concerning changes of alluvial sand deposits following recession of high flows in 1983 and 1984 indicate that sand was eroded from recirculation zones in narrow reaches. In wide reaches, however, aggradation in recirculation zones may have occurred. In narrow reaches, the decrease of reattachment deposits was greater than that of separation deposits. In all reaches, the percentage of separation deposits that maintained a constant area was greater than for other deposits. Separation deposits, therefore, appear to be the most stable of the deposit types.

Fluctuating flows between October 1985 and January 1986, which followed the higher and steadier flows of 1983 to 1985, caused erosion throughout the park. For separation deposits, erosion was greatest at those sites where deposition from the 1983 high flows had been greatest. The existing pattern of low campsite availability in narrow reaches and high campsite availability in wide reaches was thus accentuated by the sequence of flows between 1983 and 1985.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1990
Title Aggradation and degradation of alluvial sand deposits, 1965 to 1986, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
DOI 10.3133/pp1493
Authors John C. Schmidt, Julia B. Graf
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1493
Index ID pp1493
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse

Related Content