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Analyses of surficial deposits, central Brooks Range, Alaska

January 1, 1979

Seventy-nine sediment samples from the central Brooks Range were analyzed for grain-size distribution, shape and composition of grains, and other physical properties. Four statistical measures (sorting, mean diameter, skewness, and kurtosis) were then computed for the sand-to-clay size fraction of all samples.

Fan sediments resemble the other alluvial-gravel deposits in consisting of sand and gravel from which very fine sand and the smaller size fractions have been removed by running water. Sorting and rounding of particles is best at the distal ends of large fans. Modern alluvium is better sorted than most fan deposits, with more rounded clasts and generally higher ratios of sand to gravel. Other alluvial deposits from terraces and heavily dissected erosion remnants generally are comparable to modern alluvium. All classes of alluvial gravel are characterized by removal of fines and by decreasing values of mean 0, kurtosis, and skewness as sorting increases. Most samples also have high clay/silt ratios that probably were caused by deflation on windswept bars and floodplains.

Lacustrine deposits have clay percentages ranging from about 85 to 35, with silt predominant in more than one-half of the samples. Several samples contain sand and gravel that presumably were ice rafted. Clay-sized particles are unweathered mineral grains, implying that glacial abrasion was their primary source.

Flow-slide deposits are very poorly sorted mixtures of gravel, sand, and silt, with clay content averaging only about one percent. Clasts consist of angular fragments of local bedrock, usually schist and phyllite, and matrix materials usually are highly micaceous. Although related flow types, a mud-flow and a debris-flow in till, are generally similar to flow-slide deposits, the mudflow has been modified by running water and the debris flow reflects the composition of its parent till. Other colluvial deposits commonly have high silt and low clay contents, but one solifluction deposit has abundant clay derived from till. Several of the flow-slides and other colluvial deposits are polygenetic, having undergone several episodes of flow that incorporated different types of sediment.

Sand deposits include silty floodplain and basin-fill deposits as well as five relatively pure and well sorted dunal and river-bar sands. The silt-rich deposits probably contain large amounts of loess that fell into late-Pleistocene basin fillings and muskegs and later was redeposited on Holocene floodplains. The five dunal and bar sands are dominantly medium to fine sand; relatively well sorted, symmetric to coarse skewed, and leptokurtic. The dunal sands can be distinguished by the presence of very fine sand: wind apparently is less effective than flowing water in removing the finest sand fraction.

The glacial deposits consist of till, ice-content stratified drift, and outwash. Till is a poorly sorted mixed sediment that resembles many flow de-posits but typically contains more clay. Two clay-deficient tills resemble fan deposits, implying effective washing by meltwater during glacial transport or deposition of these deposits. The ice-contact stratified drift varies in character from fan-like gravel deposits to sand accumulations nearly as well sorted as those of river bars. Almost all samples reflect some restriction in washing of fines by meltwater, probably owing to irregular topography and resulting poor drainage on and around stagnating glaciers. Most outwash deposits have less fine sand than modern alluvium, probably reflecting the generally high energy of glacial meltwater streams and the absence of vegetation from their floodplains. Samples from the southern Brooks Range are better sorted than those from northern Brooks Range valleys, and their statistical values lie close to those of modern alluvium.

Comparisons between the different classes of sediments are facilitated by combining them into (1) gravel, (2) sand, silt, and clay, and (3) mixed deposits. Deposits of unknown or uncertain origin may then be compared directly against sediments from modern streams, dunes, flow-slides and other known sources, and alternative origins of aberrant samples in each of the sediment classes can also be examined. Several samples that initially were classed as fan, lacustrine, or glacial proved to be mixed deposits created by frost-churning, frost-lifting of stones, flowage down faces of river bluffs, and other postdepositional processes.

Sorting and mean ϕ of matrix materials were useful in distinguishing the different sediment classes, separating them into contrasting subgroups, and identifying atypical samples. Skewness and kurtosis were generally less useful in this study.

Publication Year 1979
Title Analyses of surficial deposits, central Brooks Range, Alaska
DOI 10.3133/ofr79228
Authors Thomas D. Hamilton, James H. Trexler, James McCalpin
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 79-228
Index ID ofr79228
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse