- Sediment deposit ages inferred from radiocarbon dating of stream bank material were used to estimate residence times of valley-floor deposits in headwater valleys of the Oregon Coast Range, USA. Inherited ages of radiocarbon-dated material, i.e., time between carbon fixation in wood and its incorporation in a sediment deposit, can result in over-estimation of the ages of those deposits and, hence, the residence times of sediment within those units. Calibrated radiocarbon dates of 126 charcoal pieces sampled from Knowles Creek were used to estimate the distribution of inherited ages in fourteen depositional units representing three deposit types: fluvial fines, fluvial gravels, and debris flows. Within a depositional unit, the inherited age distribution of a piece of charcoal was estimated by convolving its calibrated age distribution with that of the piece of charcoal with the smallest weighted-mean calibrated age (i.e., an approximation of a unit's date of deposition) within that unit. All inherited age distributions for a particular deposit type were then added and normalized to provide a probability distribution of inherited ages for that deposit type. Probability distributions of inherited ages average 688, 1506, and 666 yr for fluvial fines, fluvial gravels, and debris flow units, respectively. Curves were fit to inherited age distributions for each deposit type. These curve fits were then convolved with deposit age distributions (i.e., equal to calibrated age distributions of woody material sampled from stream banks) of samples from Bear Creek (Lancaster and Casebeer, 2007) to correct these deposit ages for inherited age. This convolution gives a corrected deposit age. In cases in which means of corrected deposit age distributions for an upper unit were older than those of a lower unit within a stratigraphic column, the upper sample’s corrected deposit age distribution was set to that of the youngest lower in the stratigraphic section. Convolution shifted individual deposit age distributions towards zero and increased their standard deviation by an average of 365%. However, convolution decreased the standard deviations of normalized probability distribution functions of deposit ages inferred from many samples from 1340 to 1197 yr, and from 471 to 416 yr for lower and upper reaches, respectively, of the Bear Creek valley in the Oregon Coast Range. Convolution decreased estimates of mean deposit ages from 1296 to 1051 yr, and from 308 to 245 yr for lower and upper reaches, respectively, of the Bear Creek. Estimates of percentages of basin denudation passing through each reach's deposit ("trapping efficiency") increased from 11.6% to 14.4%, and from 25.4% to 31.9% for lower and upper Bear Creek, respectively. However, basic shapes of residence time distributions and, thus, inferences regarding removal of sediment from the reaches did not change after deposit dates were corrected. Sediment residence times in the lower Bear Creek valley are exponentially distributed, which implies that all sediment has a uniform probability of evacuation from deposits, whereas the power-law-distributed residence times in upper Bear imply preferential evacuation of younger deposits and preservation of older deposits.
Much of the sediment transported onto valley floors via debris flows is deposited, and then is evacuated over longer times. Volumes and residence times of stored sediment in these deposits at the transition from debris flow to fluvial evacuation, and their associated width of valley floors, vary throughout a network. Export volumes and frequencies from tributaries are controls on deposit volumes and may control valley widening of mainstem valley floors. In addition, closely spaced tributaries may exert composite effects on valley floor landforms. It is hypothesized that the volumes of sediment stored at confluences increases with contributing watershed area of tributaries to the point where tributary slopes are low enough to cause most debris flows to be deposited within tributary valleys instead of in the mainstem valley. In four ~1 km reaches with contributing watershed areas of 0.3 to 5.0 km², field surveys provided measures of width of valley floors and volume of deposits, and radiocarbon dating of charcoal provided residence times of sediment in these deposits. Mean residence times of reaches vary between 1.1 and 2.5 kyr. Exponential distributions fit to residence times within two of the reaches imply evacuation of sediment independent of deposit ages. Power-law fits to residence times of the other two reaches imply age-dependent evacuation of deposits. Distribution shapes of residence times, and their means, do not vary systematically with contributing watershed area of mainstems. Mean width of mainstem valley floors increases with contributing watershed areas of both mainstems and their respective tributaries. Volumes of sediment stored on the valley floor increase with contributing areas of mainstems, and these volumes at tributary junctions peaked at tributary contributing areas of ~0.1 km². Percentage of basin denudation entering storage decreases with contributing area of mainstem. This decrease may be due to increasing percentages of sediment supply via fluvial transport for larger watersheds, and much, if not most, of this supply routes through the system quickly.