In the western Grand Canyon, fluvial terraces and pediment surfaces, both associated with a Pleistocene basalt flow, document Quaternary aggradation and downcutting by the Colorado River, illuminate the river's response to overload and the end of overload, and allow calibration of soil-carbonate stages and determination of downcutting rates. Four downcutting-aggradation cycles are present. Each begins with erosion of older deposits to form a new river channel in which a characteristic suite of deposits is laid down. The current cycle (I) started ~700 yr B.P. The oldest (IV) includes the 603,000 ± 8000 to 524,000 ± 7000 yr Black Ledge basalt flow, emplaced when the river channel was ~30 m higher than it is now. The flow is overlain by basalt-cobble gravel and basalt sand. Soils reach the stage V level of carbonate development. Calibrated ages for soil stages are Stage V, ~525,000 yr; stage IV, <525,000 yr, ≥250,000 yr; stage III, <250,000 yr, ≥100,000 yr. The monolithologic basalt sand beds represent overloading by volcanic ash produced by an eruption 30-50 km upstream. The basalt-cobble beds signal breaching and rapid destruction of lava dams and erosion of flows. These deposits show that the Colorado River responds to overload by aggrading vigorously during the overload and then downcutting equally vigorously when the overload ends. The overall downcutting rate for the interval studied is 1.6 cm/1000 yr, much lower than rates upstream. The current downcutting rate, 11-14 m/1000 yr, likely is a response both to the end of late Pleistocene and early Holocene overload and to the reduction of sediment supply caused by Glen Canyon Dam.
Additional publication details
Cyclic aggradation and downcutting, fluvial response to volcanic activity, and calibration of soil-carbonate stages in the western Grand Canyon, Arizona