Volumetric analysis and hydrologic characterization of a modern debris flow near Yucca Mountain, Nevada


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On July 21 or 22, 1984, debris flows triggered by rainfall occurred on the southern hillslope of Jake Ridge, about 6 km east of the crest of Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Rain gages near Jake Ridge recorded 65 mm and 69 mm on July 21, and 20 mm and 17 mm on July 22. Rates of rainfall intensity ranged up to 73 mm/h on the twenty-first, and 15 mm/h on the twenty-second. Digital elevation models with 2.0 m grid-node spacing, measured from pre-storm and post-storm aerial stereo-photographs, were used to map hillslope erosion and the downslope distribution of debris. Volumetric calculations indicate that about 7040 m3 of debris was redistributed on the 49,132 m2 hillslope study area during the two-day storm period. About 4580 m3 (65%) of the eroded sediment was deposited within the study area and the remaining 35% was deposited outside the study area in a short tributary to Fortymile Wash and in the wash itself. The maximum and mean depths of erosion in the study area were about 1.8 m and 5 cm, respectively. The mean depths of erosion on the upper and middle hillslope were 27 cm and 4 cm, respectively. The mean depth of deposition on the lower hillslope was 16 cm. Analysis of the values of cumulative precipitation in the context of the precipitation-frequency atlas of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that precipitation from the main storm on July 21 was more than double that expected, on average, once during a 100-year period. The relations of precipitation intensity/duration, developed from data recorded at a nearby precipitation gage, indicate a storm interval of 500 years or greater. The amount of erosion caused by such a storm is primarily dependent on three variables: storm intensity, development of the drainage network on the hillslope, and the amount of available colluvium. Additionally, the erosive ability of successive storms of equal intensity will decrease because such storms would tend to progressively isolate and reduce the amount of colluvium available. The preservation of Pleistocene deposits on hillslopes of Yucca Mountain, in general, indicates that erosional events that strip 5% of the available hillslope colluvium must be quite rare. We conclude that the recurrence interval of an erosional event comparable to the July, 1984 event is probably much longer than 500 years.

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Volumetric analysis and hydrologic characterization of a modern debris flow near Yucca Mountain, Nevada
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