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Recurrent debris flows and their downstream fate: Geomorphic drivers of an anomalous sediment load, Suiattle River, Washington State, USA

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Author(s): Edward M. Fordham, Allison M. Pfeiffer, Andrew G. Bunn, Stephen J. Novak

Document Type:
Publisher: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Published Year: 2023
Pages: 14
DOI Identifier: 10.1002/esp.5551
ISBN Identifier:
Keywords: debris flows fluvial response glacier outburst flood sediment budget sediment pulse

Alpine mass wasting events have impacts that extend past their headwater origins, sometimes reaching populated lowlands. Understanding the processes driving these sediment pulses, and how they contribute to basin-scale sediment fluxes, is important for hazard assessment and aquatic habitat management. The Suiattle River, which drains Glacier Peak stratovolcano in Washington State, is a dominant contributor of suspended sediment in the region. Normalized for drainage area, it supplies more suspended sediment than nearly any other river in the area and more than twice as much as the White Chuck River, which drains the opposite flank of the volcano. Despite its importance to the regional sediment budget, geomorphic processes in the basin have received relatively little attention in the literature. In this study, we build on previous work to explore the magnitude, timing and triggering mechanisms of sediment loading events in the basin. We find that outburst flood-triggered debris flows from Chocolate Glacier are of widely varying magnitude and coincide with high temperatures in the late summer. Major debris flow activity initiated in the late 1930s, with at least eight valley-filling debris flows since then. Smaller, more recent debris flows, likely also driven by outburst floods, occur in five of seven years of complete data. In total, the small debris flows and the subsequent autumn flushing events explain ~21% of the ‘anomalous’ sediment load in the basin, while reworking and abrasion of the historic events may explain another ~26%. We speculate that some of the remaining unexplained ‘anomalous’ load could be the result of a feedback between channel lateral instability (originally triggered by the valley-spanning debris flows) and bluff erosion.

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Suggested Citations:
In Text Citation:
Fordham and others (2023) or (Fordham et al., 2023)

References Citation:
Fordham, E.M., A.M. Pfeiffer, A.G. Bunn, and S.J. Novak, 2023, Recurrent debris flows and their downstream fate: Geomorphic drivers of an anomalous sediment load, Suiattle River, Washington State, USA: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 14 p., doi: 10.1002/esp.5551.