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Depositional processes in large-scale debris-flow experiments

January 1, 1997

This study examines the depositional process and characteristics of deposits of large‐scale experimental debris flows (to 15 m3) composed of mixtures of gravel (to 32 mm), sand, and mud. The experiments were performed using a 95‐m‐long, 2‐m‐wide debris‐flow flume that slopes 31°. Following release, experimental debris flows invariably developed numerous shallow (∼ 10 cm deep) surges. Sediment transported by surges accumulated abruptly on a 3° runout slope at the mouth of the flume. Deposits developed in a complex manner through a combination of shoving forward and shouldering aside previously deposited debris and through progressive vertical accretion. Progressive accretion by the experimental flows is contrary to commonly assumed en masse sedimentation by debris flows. Despite progressive sediment emplacement, deposits were composed of unstratified accumulations of generally unsorted debris; hence massively textured, poorly sorted debris‐flow deposits are not emplaced uniquely en masse. The depositional process was recorded mainly by deposit morphology and surface texture and was not faithfully registered by interior sedimentary texture; homogeneous internal textures could be misinterpreted as the result of en masse emplacement by a single surge. Deposition of sediment by similar, yet separate, debris flows produced a homogenous, massively textured composite deposit having little stratigraphic distinction. Similar deposit characteristics and textures are observed in natural debris‐flow deposits in China. Experimental production of massively textured deposits by progressive sediment accretion limits interpretations that can be drawn from deposit characteristics and casts doubt on methods of estimating flow properties from deposit thickness or from relations between particle size and bed thickness.

Publication Year 1997
Title Depositional processes in large-scale debris-flow experiments
DOI 10.1086/515930
Authors J. J. Major
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Geology
Index ID 70019931
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Cascades Volcano Observatory