Channel and hillslope processes in a semiarid area, New Mexico

Professional Paper 352-G

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Ephemeral washes having drainage areas from a few acres to 5 square miles are shown by actual measurement to be accumulating sediment on the streambed. This aggradation is not apparent to the eye but is clearly shown in 7 years of annual remeasurement.

A similar aggradation was in progress in the same area some 3000 years ago as evidenced by an alluvial terrace later dissected by the present channel system. At that time as well as at present, aggradation occurred even in tributary areas draining a few acres. Colluvial accumulations merge with channel deposits and blanket the valleys and tributary basins even up to a few hundred feet of the drainage divides.

The present study concerned the amounts of sediment produced by different erosion processes in various physiographic positions in the drainage basins. Measurements show that by far the largest sediment source is sheet erosion operating on the small percentage of basin area near the basin divides.

Mass movement, gully head extension, and channel enlargement are presently small contributors of sediment compared with sheet erosion on unrilled slopes. As in previous studies, not all of the erosion products could be accounted for by accumulations on colluvial slopes and on beds of channels. The discrepancies are attributed primarily to sediment carried completely out of the basins studied and presumably deposited somewhere downstream.

Aggradation of alluvial valleys of 5 square miles area and smaller both in the present epicycle, and in prehistorical but post-glacial times in this locality, cannot be attributed to gullying or rill extension in the headwater tributaries but to sheet erosion of the most upstream margins of the basins.

Studies of rainfall characteristics of the 7 years of measurement compared with previous years in the 100-year record do not provide a clear-out difference which would account for the presently observed aggradation of channels. Longer period of measurement of erosion and sedimentation will be necessary to identify what precipitation parameters govern whether the channels aggrade or degrade.

Additional publication details

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USGS Numbered Series
Channel and hillslope processes in a semiarid area, New Mexico
Series title:
Professional Paper
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U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
iv, 57 p.
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USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title:
Erosion and sedimentation in a semiarid environment (Professional Paper 352)
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