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Durham University

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Alexander Densmore

Schürch, P., Densmore, A.L., Ivy-Ochs, S., Rosser, N.J., Kober, F., Schlunegger, F., McArdell, B. & Alfimov, V. Quantitative reconstruction of late Holocene surface evolution on an alpine debris-flow fan. Geomorphology. 2016;275:46-57.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Debris-flow fans form a ubiquitous record of past debris-flow activity in mountainous areas, and may be useful for inferring past flow characteristics and consequent future hazard. Extracting information on past debris flows from fan records, however, requires an understanding of debris-flow deposition and fan surface evolution; field-scale studies of these processes have been very limited. In this paper, we document the patterns and timing of debris-flow deposition on the surface of the large and exceptionally active Illgraben fan in southwestern Switzerland. We use terrain analysis, radiocarbon dating of sediment fill in the Illgraben catchment, and cosmogenic 10Be and 36Cl exposure dating of debris-flow deposits on the fan to constrain the temporal evolution of the sediment routing system in the catchment and on the fan during the past 3200 years. We show that the fan surface preserves a set of debris-flow lobes that were predominantly deposited after the occurrence of a large rock avalanche near the fan apex at about 3200 years ago. This rock avalanche shifted the apex of the fan and impounded sediment within the Illgraben catchment. Subsequent evolution of the fan surface has been governed by both lateral and radial shifts in the active depositional lobe, revealed by the cosmogenic radionuclide dates and by cross-cutting geometrical relationships on the fan surface. This pattern of frequent avulsion and fan surface occupation provides field-scale evidence of the type of large-scale compensatory behavior observed in experimental sediment routing systems.