Evolution of particle angularity in natural and laboratory debris flows

Friday, 19 December 2014
Molly Katherine Mclaughlin, Omid Arabnia and Leonard S Sklar, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, United States
The sizes of particles entrained in debris flows influence flow dynamics, affecting erosive power and runout distance. Particle size distributions evolve due to wear by abrasion and fracturing, and by gains or losses of sediment mass during transport. To tease apart these factors, we need a better understanding of the controls on rates and patterns of particle wear in debris flows. Here we focus on changes in particle angularity with travel distance, combining laboratory experiments with field study of a rocky debris flow at Inyo Creek, Sierra Nevada California. Angularity can indicate proximity to sediment source, assuming abrasion leads to progressive smoothing of particle surfaces. However, particle fracture can create fresh angular surfaces, confounding estimates of travel distance from angularity. This study is a component of an ongoing set of experiments using a 4 m diameter rotating drum to create near-prototype-scale debris flows. We load the drum with 1.7 Mg of highly angular granodiorite clasts, with median b-axis diameter of 100 mm. The 0.75 m deep, shearing mass flows at 1 m/s. After each 250 m travel distance, we measure mass and length of principal axes for every particle >19 mm, and sieve all smaller particles, to track evolution of the size distribution. We document the angularity of subsamples of selected particle sizes, using several techniques, including analysis of 2D photographs, 3D laser scans, and hand-placed equilibrium points. We use the same techniques in analyzing particles collected in the field study of the downstream evolution of rock clasts along a 1 km length of Inyo Creek. In this catchment, underlain by granodiorite, sediment transport is dominated by debris flows, which leave deposits on the bed and channel margins at slopes >20%. Preliminary laboratory results show rapid smoothing of large particle surfaces combined with creation of smaller angular particles by fracture. In contrast, downstream evolution of angularity in the field is more variable, possibly due to mixing of particles from multiple source areas. Results suggest that downstream changes in angularity contain information about proximity to sources and intensity of particle interactions in transport, and may be useful for constraining predictive relations for particle size evolution in debris flows.