Flow events on a hyper-arid alluvial fan: Quebrada Tambores, Salar de Atacama, northern Chile
Anne E. Mather, Adrian Hartley, 2005. "Flow events on a hyper-arid alluvial fan: Quebrada Tambores, Salar de Atacama, northern Chile", Alluvial Fans: Geomorphology, Sedimentology, Dynamics, A. M. Harvey, A. E. Mather, M. Stokes
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The Tambores alluvial fan is located within the hyper-arid Atacama Desert of northern Chile. We examine evidence of the range of flow processes operative in this environment from a combination of Pleistocene–Holocene fan deposits and a recent (2001) flood event (16 m3 s–1) in the fan feeder channel and upper alluvial-fan area. The field evidence suggests that peak flows recorded in the older deposits generated extensive sheetflood events dominated by antidune deposition in the upper fan area. These extreme, supercritical flows were generated by floods with sustained high sediment and water discharges and high stream power. Easily erodable alluvial source materials ensured high sediment discharge could be maintained within flood events. High stream power was ensured as a function of the tectonically exacerbated gradients within the source area. The 2001 event indicates the rapid rheological changes that can occur within an individual flood event, ranging from hyperconcentrated streamflow to mudflow. The flow deposits vary little in maximum clast size either between the varying flood events in the upper fan area, or down the fan gradient. This is due to a limited calibre of sediment being produced from the source area. The study highlights: (1) the range of flow rheologies that can be generated from a hyper-arid catchment both within and between flood events of varying magnitude and the associated difficulties in generating a reliable stratigraphy from the resultant deposits; (2) the high stream power and sediment discharge associated with major flood events and thus the nature of flood hazard in the catchment and on the fan; and (3) the limitations of sedimentological information such as maximum clast size as an indicator of peak flow characteristics in ancient deposits.