Abstract

Volcanic eruptions fundamentally alter landscapes, paving over channels, decimating biota, and emplacing fresh, unweathered material. The fluvial incision of blocky lava flows is a geomorphic puzzle. First, high surface permeability and lack of sediment should preclude geomorphically effective surface runoff and dissection. Furthermore, past work has demonstrated the importance of extreme floods in driving incision via column toppling and plucking in columnar basalt, but it is unclear how incision occurs in systems where surface blocks are readily mobile. We examine rapid fluvial incision of the Collier lava flow, an andesitic Holocene lava flow in the High Cascades of Oregon. Since lava flow emplacement ∼1600 yr ago, White Branch Creek has incised bedrock gorges up to 8 m deep into the coherent core of the lava flow and deposited >0.2 km3 of sediment on the lava flow surface. Field observation points to a bimodal discharge regime in the channel, with evidence for both annual snowmelt runoff and outburst floods from Collier glacier, as well as historical evidence of vigorous glacial meltwater. To determine the range of discharge events capable of incision in White Branch Creek, we used a mechanistic model of fluvial abrasion. We show that the observed incision implies that moderate flows are capable of both initiating channel formation and sustaining incision. Our results have implications for the evolution of volcanic systems worldwide, where glaciation and/or mass wasting may accelerate fluvial processes by providing large amounts of sediment to otherwise porous, sediment-starved landscapes.

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