Abstract

Sedimentological study of late Wisconsin, Missoula-flood slack-water sediments deposited along the Columbia and Tucannon Rivers in southern Washington reveals important aspects of flood dynamics. Most flood facies were deposited by energetic flood surges (velocities > 6 m/sec) entering protected areas along the flood tract, or flowing up and then directly out of tributary valleys. True still-water facies are less voluminous and restricted to elevations below 230 m. High flood stages attended the initial arrival of the flood wave and were not associated with subsequent hydraulic ponding upslope from channel constrictions. Among 186 flood beds studied in 12 sections, 57% have bioturbated tops, and about half of these bioturbated beds are separated from overlying flood beds by nonflood sediments. A single graded flood bed was deposited at most sites during most floods. Sequences in which 2-9 graded beds were deposited during a single flood are restricted to low elevations. These sequences imply complex, multi-peaked hydrographs in which the first flood surge was generally the largest, and subsequent surges were attenuated by water already present in slack-water areas. Slack-water-sediment stratigraphy suggests a wide range of flood discharges and volumes. Of >40 documented late Wisconsin floods that inundated the Pasco Basin, only about 20 crossed the Palouse-Snake divide. Floods younger than the set-S tephras from Mount St. Helens were generally smaller than earlier floods of late Wisconsin age, although most still crossed the Palouse-Snake divide. These late floods primarily traversed the Cheney-Palouse scabland because stratigraphy of slack-water sediment along the Columbia River implies that the largest flood volumes did not enter the Pasco Basin by way of the Columbia River.

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