Since the impact ~50,000 yr ago, surface runoff has entrained and transported sediment from the walls to the floor of Meteor Crater (Arizona, USA). Previous work interpreted this erosion and deposition to be due to predominantly fluvial (i.e., dilute water transport) processes. However, light detection and ranging (LiDAR)–derived topographic data and field observations indicate that debris flows dominated, which were likely generated by runoff that entrained the talus that borders bedrock cliffs high on the crater walls. The low gradient of the crater floor caused debris flows to stop, leaving lobate deposits, while fluvial processes delivered sediment toward the center of the crater. Cosmogenic radionuclide dating of levee deposits suggests that debris-flow activity ceased in the late Pleistocene, synchronous with regional drying. Assuming a rock-to-water ratio of 0.3 at the time of transport by mass flows, it would have taken ~2 × 106 m3 of water to transport the estimated ~6.8 × 106 m3 of debris-flow deposits found at the surface of the crater floor. This extensive erosion would require ~6 m of total runoff over the 0.35 km2 upslope source area of the crater, or ~18 mm of runoff per debris-flow event. Much more runoff did occur, as evidenced by crater lake deposits, Holocene fluvial activity (which produced little erosion), and contemporary rainfall rates. Rarely on Earth is the total amount of water that creates and runs through a landscape estimated, yet such calculations are commonly done on Mars. Our analysis suggests that erosional and depositional landforms may record only a small fraction of the total runoff.

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