Particle size reduction in debris flows: Laboratory experiments compared with field data from Inyo Creek, California

Friday, 19 December 2014
Omid Arabnia, Leonard S Sklar and Molly Katherine Mclaughlin, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, United States
Rock particles in debris flows are reduced in size through abrasion and fracture. Wear of coarse sediments results in production of finer particles, which alter the bulk material rheology and influence flow dynamics and runout distance. Particle wear also affects the size distribution of coarse particles, transforming the initial sediment size distribution produced on hillslopes into that delivered to the fluvial channel network. A better understanding of the controls on particle wear in debris flows would aid in the inferring flow conditions from debris flow deposits, in estimating the initial size of sediments entrained in the flow, and in modeling debris flow dynamics and mapping hazards. The rate of particle size reduction with distance traveled should depend on the intensity of particle interactions with other particles and the flow boundary, and on rock resistance to wear. We seek a geomorphic transport law to predict rate of particle wear with debris flow travel distance as a function of particle size distribution, flow depth, channel slope, fluid composition and rock strength. Here we use four rotating drums to create laboratory debris flows across a range of scales. Drum diameters range from 0.2 to 4.0 m, with the largest drum able to accommodate up to 2 Mg of material, including boulders. Each drum has vanes along the boundary to prevent sliding. Initial experiments use angular clasts of durable granodiorite; later experiments will use less resistant rock types. Shear rate is varied by changing drum rotational velocity. We begin experiments with well-sorted coarse particle size distributions, which are allowed to evolve through particle wear. The fluid is initially clear water, which rapidly acquires fine-grained wear products. After each travel increment all coarse particles (mass > 0.4 g) are weighed individually. We quantify particle wear rates using statistics of size and mass distributions, and by fitting various comminution functions to the data. Laboratory data are compared with longitudinal evolution of grain size and angularity of particles deposited by debris flows along Inyo Creek, Sierra Nevada, California. Preliminary results suggest wear rates can be scaled across drum sizes and to field conditions using non-dimensional metrics of flow dynamics including Savage, Bagnold, and Froude numbers.