Lava Falls Rapid, which was created and is maintained by debris flows from Prospect Canyon, is the most formidable reach of whitewater on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon and is one of the most famous rapids in the world. Debris flows enter the Colorado River at tributary junctures, creating rapids. The frequency of debris flows is an important consideration when management of regulated rivers involves maintenance of channel morphology. We used cosmogenic 3He, 14C, and historical photographs to date 12 late Holocene and historic debris flows from Prospect Canyon. The highest and oldest deposits from debris flows on the debris fan yielded a 3He date of about 3 ka, which indicates predominately late Holocene aggradation of one of the largest debris fans in Grand Canyon. The deposit, which has a 25-m escarpment caused by river reworking, crossed the Colorado River and raised its base level by 30 m for an indeterminate although likely short period. We mapped depositional surfaces of 11 debris flows that occurred after 3 ka. Two deposits inset against the highest deposit yielded 3He ages of about 2.2 ka, and at least two others followed shortly afterwards. At least one of these debris flows also dammed the Colorado River. The most recent prehistoric debris flow occurred no more than 0.5 ka. The largest historic debris flow, which constricted the river by 80%, occurred in 1939. Five other debris flows occurred after 1939; these debris flows constricted the Colorado River by 35-80%. Assuming the depositional volumes of late Holocene debris flows can be modeled using a lognormal distribution, we calculated recurrence intervals of 15 to more than 2000 years for debris flows from Prospect Canyon.
Additional publication details
Cosmogenic 3He ages and frequency of late Holocene debris flows from Prospect Canyon, Grand Canyon, USA