Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Sediment sources and transport by the Kahiltna Glacier and other catchments along the south side of the Alaska Range, Alaska

March 10, 2020

Erosion related to glacial activity produces enormous amounts of sediment. However, sediment mobilization in glacial systems is extremely complex. Sediment is derived from headwalls, slopes along the margins of glaciers, and basal erosion; however, the rates and relative contributions of each are unknown. To test and quantify conceptual models for sediment generation and transport in a simple valley glacier system, we collected samples for 10Be analysis from the Kahiltna Glacier, which flows off Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. We collected angular quartz clasts on bedrock ledges from a high mountainside above the equilibrium line altitude (ELA), amalgamated clast samples from medial moraines, and sand samples from the river below the glacier. We also collected sand from nine other rivers along the south flank of the Alaska Range. In the upper catchment of the Kahiltna drainage system, toppling, rockfall, and slab collapse are significant erosional processes. Erosion rates of hundreds of millimeters per thousand years were calculated from 10Be concentrations. The 10Be concentrations in amalgamated samples from medial moraines showed concentrations much lower than those measured from the high mountainside, a result of the incorporation of thick, and effectively unexposed, blocks into the moraine, as well as the incorporation of material from lower-elevation nearby slopes above the moraines. The 10Be sediment samples from downstream of the Kahiltna Glacier terminus showed decreasing concentrations with increasing distance from the moraine, indicating the incorporation of material that was less exposed to cosmic rays, most likely from the glacier base as well as from slopes downstream of the glacier. Taken together, 10Be concentrations in various samples from the Kahiltna drainage system indicated erosion rates of hundreds of millimeters per thousand years, which is typical of tectonically active terrains. We also measured 10Be concentrations from river sediment samples collected from across the south flank of the Alaska Range. Calculation of basinwide weighted erosion rates that incorporated hypsometric curves produced unrealistically high erosion rates, which indicates that the major source of sediment was not exposed to cosmic rays and was primarily derived from the base of glaciers. Moreover, the apparently high erosion rates suggest that parts of each drainage system are not in erosional steady state with respect to cosmogenic isotope accumulation.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Sediment sources and transport by the Kahiltna Glacier and other catchments along the south side of the Alaska Range, Alaska
DOI 10.1130/GES02190.1
Authors Ari Matmon, Peter Haeussler
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geosphere
Series Number
Index ID 70217545
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Geology Minerals