Can Wet Rocky Granular Flows Become Debris Flows Due to Fine Sediment Production by Abrasion?

Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Omid Arabnia, Leonard S Sklar, Gionata Bianchi and Molly Katherine Mclaughlin, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, United States
Debris flows are rapid mass movements in which elevated pore pressures are sustained by a viscous fluid matrix with high concentrations of fine sediments. Debris flows may form from coarse-grained wet granular flows as fine sediments are entrained from hillslope and channel material. Here we investigate whether abrasion of the rocks within a granular flow can produce sufficient fine sediments to create debris flows. To test this hypothesis experimentally, we used a set of 4 rotating drums ranging from 0.2 to 4.0 m diameter. Each drum has vanes along the boundary ensure shearing within the flow. Shear rate was varied by changing drum rotational velocity to maintain a constant Froude Number across drums. Initial runs used angular clasts of granodiorite with a tensile strength of 7.6 MPa, with well-sorted coarse particle size distributions linearly scaled with drum radius. The fluid was initially clear water, which rapidly acquired fine-grained wear products. After each 250 m tangential distance, we measured the particle size distributions, and then returned all water and sediment to the drums for subsequent runs. We calculate particle wear rates using statistics of size and mass distributions, and by fitting the Sternberg equation to the rate of mass loss from the size fraction > 2mm.

Abundant fine sediments were produced in the experiments, but very little change in the median grain size was detected. This appears to be due to clast rounding, as evidenced by a decrease in the number of stable equilibrium resting points. We find that the growth in the fine sediment concentration in the fluid scales with unit drum power. This relationship can be used to estimate fine sediment production rates in the field. We explore this approach at Inyo Creek, a steep catchment in the Sierra Nevada, California. There, a significant debris flow occurred in July 2013, which originated as a coarse-grained wet granular flow. We use surveys to estimate flow depth and velocity where super-elevation occurred, to calculate a unit power of 4.5 KW/m2. From this we predict that 14% of the coarse mass is converted to fine sediment by abrasion per km. At that rate, the increase in fines concentration may have been sufficient to cause a wet granular flow to evolve into a debris flow within the first 1 km of its > 4km travel distance.