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Erosion, storage, and transport of sediment in two subbasins of the Rio Puerco, New Mexico

June 6, 2012

Arroyos in the American Southwest proceed through cut-and-fill cycles that operate at centennial to millennial time scales. The geomorphic community has put much effort into understanding the causes of arroyo cutting in the late Quaternary and in the modern record (late 1800s), while little effort has gone into understanding how arroyos fill and the sources of this fill. Here, we successfully develop a geographic information system (GIS)-modeled sediment budget that is based on detailed field measurements of hillslope and channel erosion and deposition. Field measurements were made in two arroyo basins draining different lithologies and undergoing different land disturbance (Volcano Hill Wash, 9.30 km2; Arroyo Chavez, 2.11 km2) over a 3 yr period. Both basins have incised channels that formed in response to the late nineteenth-century incision of the Rio Puerco. Large volumes of sediment were generated during arroyo incision, equal to more than 100 yr of the current annual total sediment load (bed load + suspended load) in each basin. Downstream reaches in both arroyos are presently aggrading, and the main source of the sediment is from channel erosion in upstream reaches and first- and second-order tributaries. The sediment budget shows that channel erosion is the largest source of sediment in the current stage of the arroyo cycle: 98% and 80% of the sediment exported out of Volcano Hill Wash and Arroyo Chavez, respectively. The geomorphic surface most affected by arroyo incision and one of the most important sediment sources is the valley alluvium, where channel erosion, gullying, soil piping, and grazing all occur. Erosion rates calculated for the entire Volcano Hill Wash (-0.26 mm/yr) and Arroyo Chavez (-0.53 mm/yr) basins are higher than the modeled upland erosion rates in each basin, reflecting the large contributions from channel erosion. Erosion rates in each basin are affected by a combination of land disturbance (grazing) and lithology--erodible sandstones and shales in Arroyo Chavez compared with basalt for Volcano Hill Wash. Despite these differences, hillslope sediment yields are similar to long-term denudation rates. As the arroyo fills over time from mouth to headwaters, hillslope sediment becomes a more significant sediment source.

Publication Year 2012
Title Erosion, storage, and transport of sediment in two subbasins of the Rio Puerco, New Mexico
DOI 10.1130/B30392.1
Authors A. C. Gellis, M.J. Pavich, A.L. Ellwein, S. Aby, I. Clark, M.E. Wieczorek, R. Viger
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title GSA Bulletin
Index ID 70038510
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Maryland Water Science Center