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Debris flow initiation in proglacial gullies on Mount Rainier, Washington Public Deposited

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  • Effects of climate change, retreating glaciers, and changing storm patterns on debris flow hazards concern managers in the Cascade Range (USA) and mountainous areas worldwide. During an intense rainstorm in November 2006, seven debris flows initiated from proglacial gullies of separate basins on the flanks of Mount Rainier. Gully heads at glacier termini and widespread failure of gully walls imply that overland flow was transformed into debris flow along gullies. We characterized gully change and morphology, and assessed spatial distributions of debris flows to infer the processes and conditions for debris flow initiation. Slopes at gully heads were greater than ~0.35 m m⁻¹ (19°) and exhibited a significant negative relationship with drainage area. A break in slope–drainage area trends among debris flow gullies also occurs at ~0.35 m m⁻¹, representing a possible transition to fluvial sediment transport and erosion. An interpreted hybrid model of debris flow initiation involves bed failure near gully heads followed by sediment recruitment from gully walls along gully lengths. Estimates of sediment volume loss from gully walls demonstrate the importance of sediment inputs along gullies for increasing debris flow volumes. Basin comparisons revealed significantly steeper drainage networks and higher elevations in debris flow-producing than non-debris flow-producing proglacial areas. The high slopes and elevations of debris flow-producing proglacial areas reflect positive slope–elevation trends for the Mount Rainier volcano. Glacier extent therefore controls the slope distribution in proglacial areas, and thus potential for debris flow generation. As a result, debris flow activity may increase as glacier termini retreat onto slopes inclined at angles above debris flow initiation thresholds.
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  • Legg, N. T., Meigs, A. J., Grant, G. E., & Kennard, P. (2014). Debris flow initiation in proglacial gullies on Mount Rainier, Washington. Geomorphology, 226, 249-260. doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.08.003
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  • The National Park Service (Mount Rainier National Park) provided generous funding and field support (NPS Interagency Agreement P13PG00049). This study was also supported by graduate student research grants from the Geological Society of America (9586-11) and Mazamas Organization, a fellowship provided by George Sharp (OSU-CEOAS department fellowship), a National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM) seed grant (WA12_Legg), and a grant from the National Science Foundation's Geomorphology and Land Use Dynamics Program (EAR-0844017).
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