Clast populations in piedmont fluvial systems are products of complex histories that complicate provenance interpretation. Although pebble counts of lithology are widely used, the information provided by a pebble count has been filtered by a potentially large number of processes and circumstances. Counts of pebble lithology and roundness together offer more power than lithology alone for the interpretation of provenance. In this study we analyze pebble counts of lithology and roundness in two contrasting fluvial systems of Pleistocene age to see how provenance varies with drainage size. The two systems are 1) a group of small high-gradient incised streams that formed alluvial fans and terraces and 2) a piedmont river that formed terraces in response to climate-driven cycles of aggradation and incision. We first analyze the data from these systems within their geographic and geologic context. After this is done, we employ contingency table analysis to complete the interpretation of pebble provenance. Small tributary streams that drain rugged mountains on both sides of the Santa Cruz River, southeast Arizona, deposited gravel in fan and terrace deposits of Pleistocene age. Volcanic, plutonic and, to a lesser extent, sedimentary rocks are the predominant pebble lithologies. Large contrasts in gravel lithology are evident among adjacent fans. Subangular to subrounded pebbles predominate. Contingency table analysis shows that hard volcanic rocks tend to remain angular and, even though transport distances have been short, soft tuff and sedimentary rocks tend to become rounded. The Wind River, a major piedmont stream in Wyoming, drains rugged mountains surrounding the northwest part of the Wind River basin. Under the influence of climate change and glaciation during the Pleistocene, the river deposited an extensive series of terrace gravels. In contrast to Santa Cruz tributary gravel, most of the Wind River gravel is relatively homogenous in lithology and is rounded to well-rounded. Detailed analysis reveals a multitude of sources in the headwaters and the basin itself, but lithologies from these sources are combined downstream. Well-rounded volcanic and recycled quartzite clasts were derived from the headwaters. Precambrian igneous and metamorphic clasts were brought down tributary valleys to the Wind River by glaciers, and sandstone was added where the river enters the Wind River structural basin.
Additional publication details
Using pebble lithology and roundness to interpret gravel provenance in piedmont fluvial systems of the Rocky Mountains, USA