A torrential rainstorm on September 1, 1994 at the recently burned hillslopes of Storm King Mountain, CO, resulted in the generation of debris flows from every burned drainage basin. Maps (1:5000 scale) of bedrock and surficial materials and of the debris-flow paths, coupled with a 10-m Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of topography, are used to evaluate the processes that generated fire-related debris flows in this setting. These evaluations form the basis for a descriptive model for fire-related debris-flow initiation. The prominent paths left by the debris flows originated in 0- and 1st-order hollows or channels. Discrete soil-slip scars do not occur at the heads of these paths. Although 58 soil-slip scars were mapped on hillslopes in the burned basins, material derived from these soil slips accounted for only about 7% of the total volume of material deposited at canyon mouths. This fact, combined with observations of significant erosion of hillslope materials, suggests that a runoff-dominated process of progressive sediment entrainment by surface runoff, rather than infiltration-triggered failure of discrete soil slips, was the primary mechanism of debris-flow initiation. A paucity of channel incision, along with observations of extensive hillslope erosion, indicates that a significant proportion of material in the debris flows was derived from the hillslopes, with a smaller contribution from the channels. Because of the importance of runoff-dominated rather than infiltration-dominated processes in the generation of these fire-related debris flows, the runoff-contributing area that extends upslope from the point of debris-flow initiation to the drainage divide, and its gradient, becomes a critical constraint in debris-flow initiation. Slope-area thresholds for fire-related debris-flow initiation from Storm King Mountain are defined by functions of the form A cr (tan θ ) 3 = S , where A cr is the critical area extending upslope from the initiation location to the drainage divide, and tan θ is its gradient. The thresholds vary with different materials.
Geomorphology – Elsevier
Published: Aug 1, 2001
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