Abstract

We explored regional influences on debris-flow initiation throughout the Colorado Front Range (Colorado, USA) by exploiting a unique data set of more than 1100 debris flows that initiated during a 5 day rainstorm in 2013. Using geospatial data, we examined the influence of rain, hillslope angle, hillslope aspect, and vegetation density on debris-flow initiation. In particular we used a greenness index to differentiate areas of high tree density from grass and bare soil. The data demonstrated an overwhelming propensity for debris-flow initiation on south-facing hillslopes. However, when the debris-flow density was analyzed with respect to total rainfall and greenness we found that most debris flows occurred in areas of high rainfall and low tree density, regardless of hillslope aspect. These results indicate that present-day tree density exerts a stronger influence on debris-flow initiation locations than aspect-driven variations in soil and bedrock properties that developed over longer time scales.

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