Abstract

Debris flow is an efficient process of sediment transfer from slope base to piedmont depositional fans in mountain drainage basins. To advance understanding of debris-flow sediment dynamics at the regional scale, we analyze a historical (1998–2009) database of debris flows from 77 basins of Alto Adige Province, northeastern Italy. By combining information on event volumetric deposition, high-resolution digital topography, and Quaternary sediment mapping we are able to link debris-flow sediment flux to morphometry, lithologic variability, and sediment availability. We show that basin-wide specific sediment yield (SSY) scales as an inverse power function of basin area. This function is strongly controlled by the way rock type and abundance of Quaternary deposits affect the rate of downstream sediment recruitment. When sediment flux associated with each debris-flow event is subsumed across discrete spatial increments of the entire region, a complex sedimentary signature in the area-SSY space is apparent. That is, SSY increases downstream up to areas as large as 1 km2, and starts to decline beyond this scale, regardless of sediment availability. We propose that this area-SSY relation is characteristic of debris flow–dominated settings.

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