Pleistocene basaltic lava dams and outburst-flood deposits in the western Grand Canyon, Arizona, have been correlated by means of cosmogenic 3He (3Hec) ages and concentrations of SiO2, Na2O, K2O, and rare earth elements. These data indicate that basalt clasts and vitroclasts in a given outburst-flood deposit came from a common source, a lava dam. With these data, it is possible to distinguish individual dam-flood events and improve our understanding of the interrelations of volcanism and river processes. At least five lava dams on the Colorado River failed catastrophically between 100 and 525 ka; subsequent outburst floods emplaced basalt-rich deposits preserved on benches as high as 200 m above the current river and up to 53 km downstream of dam sites. Chemical data also distinguishes individual lava flows that were collectively mapped in the past as large long-lasting dam complexes. These chemical data, in combination with age constraints, increase our ability to correlate lava dams and outburst-flood deposits and increase our understanding of the longevity of lava dams. Bases of correlated lava dams and flood deposits approximate the elevation of the ancestral river during each flood event. Water surface profiles are reconstructed and can be used in future hydraulic models to estimate the magnitude of these large-scale floods.
Additional publication details
Geochemical discrimination of five pleistocene Lava-Dam outburst-flood deposits, western Grand Canyon, Arizona