Carbonate boulders transported down steep tributary channels by debris flow came to rest on Holocene debris fans beside the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. Weakly acidic rainfall and the metabolic activity of blue-green algae have produced roughly hemispheric dissolution pits as much as 2-cm deep on the initially smooth surfaces of the boulders. The average depth of dissolution pits increases with relative age of fan surfaces. The deepening rate averages 2.4 mm/1000 yr (standard error = 0.2 mm/1000 yr), as calculated from several radiometrically dated surfaces and an archeological structure. This linear rate, which appears constant over at least the past 3000 yr, is consistent with field relations limiting the maximum age of the fans and with the physical chemistry of limestone dissolution. Dissolution-pit measurements (n = 6973) were made on 617 boulders on 71 fan surfaces at the 26 largest debris fans in Grand Canyon. Among these fan surfaces, the average pit depth ranges from 1.2 to 17.4 mm, and the resulting pit dissolution ages range from 500 to 7300 cal yr B.P. Most (75%) surfaces are younger than 3000 yr, probably because of removal of older debris fans by the Colorado River. Many of the ages are close to 800, 1600, 2300, 3100, or 4300 cal yr B.P. If not the result of differential preservation of fan surfaces, this clustering implies periods of heightened debris-flow activity and increased precipitation.
Additional publication details
Numerical ages of Holocene tributary debris fans inferred from dissolution pitting on carbonate boulders in the Grand Canyon of Arizona