Contrasting rainfall generated debris flows from adjacent watersheds at Forest Falls, southern California, USA


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Debris flows are widespread and common in many steeply sloping areas of southern California. The San Bernardino Mountains community of Forest Falls is probably subject to the most frequently documented debris flows in southern California. Debris flows at Forest Falls are generated during short-duration high-intensity rains that mobilize surface material. Except for debris flows on two consecutive days in November 1965, all the documented historic debris flows have occurred during high-intensity summer rainfall, locally referred to as 'monsoon' or 'cloudburst' rains. Velocities of the moving debris range from about 5??km/h to about 90??km/h. Velocity of a moving flow appears to be essentially a function of the water content of the flow. Low velocity debris flows are characterized by steep snouts that, when stopped, have only small amounts of water draining from the flow. In marked contrast are high-velocity debris flows whose deposits more resemble fluvial deposits. In the Forest Falls area two adjacent drainage basins, Snow Creek and Rattlesnake Creek, have considerably different histories of debris flows. Snow Creek basin, with an area about three times as large as Rattlesnake Creek basin, has a well developed debris flow channel with broad levees. Most of the debris flows in Snow Creek have greater water content and attain higher velocities than those of Rattlesnake Creek. Most debris flows are in relative equilibrium with the geometry of the channel morphology. Exceptionally high-velocity flows, however, overshoot the channel walls at particularly tight channel curves. After overshooting the channel, the flows degrade the adjacent levee surface and remove trees and structures in the immediate path, before spreading out with decreasing velocity. As the velocity decreases the clasts in the debris flows pulverize the up-slope side of the trees and often imbed clasts in them. Debris flows in Rattlesnake Creek are relatively slow moving and commonly stop in the channel. After the channel is blocked, subsequent debris flows cut a new channel upstream from the blockage that results in the deposition of new debris-flow deposits on the lower part of the fan. Shifting the location of debris flows on the Rattlesnake Creek fan tends to prevent trees from becoming mature. Dense growths of conifer seedlings sprout in the spring on the late summer debris flow deposits. This repeated process results in stands of even-aged trees whose age records the age of the debris flows. ?? 2007.

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Contrasting rainfall generated debris flows from adjacent watersheds at Forest Falls, southern California, USA
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