Enhanced stability of steep channel beds to mass failure and debris flow initiation
Friday, 18 December 2015: 08:15
2005 (Moscone West)
Debris flows dominate bedrock erosion and sediment transport in very steep mountain channels, and are often initiated from failure of channel-bed alluvium during storms. While several theoretical models exist to predict mass failures, few have been tested because observations of in-channel bed failures are extremely limited. To fill this gap in our understanding, we performed laboratory flume experiments to identify the conditions necessary to initiate bed failures in non-cohesive sediment of different sizes (D = 0.7 mm to 15 mm) on steep channel-bed slopes (S = 0.45 to 0.93) and in the presence of water flow. In beds composed of sand, failures occurred under sub-saturated conditions on steep bed slopes (S > 0.5) and under super-saturated conditions at lower slopes. In beds of gravel, however, failures occurred only under super-saturated conditions at all tested slopes, even those approaching the dry angle of repose. Consistent with theoretical models, mass failures under super-saturated conditions initiated along a failure plane approximately one grain-diameter below the bed surface, whereas the failure plane was located near the base of the bed under sub-saturated conditions. However, all experimental beds were more stable than predicted by 1-D infinite-slope stability models. In partially saturated sand, enhanced stability appears to result from suction stress. Enhanced stability in gravel may result from turbulent energy losses in pores or increased granular friction for failures that are shallow with respect to grain size. These grain-size dependent effects are not currently included in stability models for non-cohesive sediment, and they may help to explain better the timing and location of debris flow occurrence.