Identification of debris-flow hazards in warm deserts through analyzing past occurrences: Case study in South Mountain, Sonoran Desert, USA

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2 Scopus citations

Abstract

After recognition that debris flows co-occur with human activities, the next step in a hazards analysis involves estimating debris-flow probability. Prior research published in this journal in 2010 used varnish microlamination (VML) dating to determine a minimum occurrence of 5 flows per century over the last 8100 years in a small mountain range of South Mountain adjacent to neighborhoods of Phoenix, Arizona. This analysis led to the conclusion that debris flows originating in small mountain ranges in arid regions like the Sonoran Desert could pose a hazard. Two major precipitation events in the summer of 2014 generated 35 debris flows in the same study area of South Mountain—providing support for the importance of probability analysis as a key step in a hazards analysis in warm desert settings. Two distinct mechanisms generated the 2014 debris flows: intense precipitation on steep slopes in the first storm; and a firehose effect whereby runoff from the second storm was funneled rapidly by cleaned-out debris-flow chutes to remobilize Pleistocene debris-flow deposits. When compared to a global database on debris flows, the 2014 storms were among the most intense to generate desert debris flows — indicating that storms of lesser intensity are capable of generating debris flows in warm desert settings. The 87Sr/86Sr analyses of fines and clasts in South Mountain debris flows of different ages reveal that desert dust supplies the fines. Thus, wetter climatic periods of intense rock decay are not needed to resupply desert slopes with fines; instead, a combination of dust deposition supplying fines and dirt cracking generating coarse clasts can re-arm chutes in a warm desert setting with abundant dust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-279
Number of pages11
JournalGeomorphology
Volume273
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 15 2016

Keywords

  • Alluvial fan
  • Desert geomorphology
  • Eolian
  • Landslide
  • Mass wasting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes

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