We have monitored initiation conditions for six debris flows between May 2004 and July 2006 in a 0.3 km2 drainage basin at Chalk Cliffs; a band of hydrothermally-altered quartz monzonite in central Colorado. Debris flows were initiated by water runoff from colluvium and bedrock that entrained sediment from rills and channels with slopes ranging from about 14° to 45°. The availability of channel material is essentially unlimited because of thick channel fill and refilling following debris flows by rock fall and dry ravel processes. Rainfall exceeding I = 6.61(D)− 0.77, where I is rainfall intensity (mm/h), and D is duration (h), was required for the initiation of debris flows in the drainage basin. The approximate minimum runoff discharge from the surface of bedrock required to initiate debris flows in the channels was 0.15 m3/s. Colluvium in the basin was unsaturated immediately prior to (antecedent) and during debris flows. Antecedent, volumetric moisture levels in colluvium at depths of 1 cm and 29 cm ranged from 4–9%, and 4–7%, respectively. During debris flows, peak moisture levels in colluvium at depths of 1 cm and 29 cm ranged from 10–20%, and 4–12%, respectively. Channel sediment at a depth of 45 cm was unsaturated before and during debris flows; antecedent moisture ranged from 20–22%, and peak moisture ranged from 24–38%. Although we have no measurements from shallow rill or channel sediment, we infer that it was unsaturated before debris flows, and saturated by surface-water runoff during debris flows.
Our results allow us to make the following general statements with regard to debris flows generated by runoff in semi-arid to arid mountainous regions: 1) high antecedent moisture levels in hillslope and channel sediment are not required for the initiation of debris flows by runoff, 2) locations of entrainment of sediment by successive runoff events can vary within a basin as a function of variations in the thickness of existing channel fill and the rate of replenishment of channel fill by rock fall and dry ravel processes following debris flows, and 3) rainfall and simulated surface-water discharge thresholds can be useful in understanding and predicting debris flows generated by runoff and sediment entrainment.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Initiation conditions for debris flows generated by runoff at Chalk Cliffs, central Colorado|
|Contributing office(s)||Geologic Hazards Science Center|