Alluvial fans are found across a range of climates and are built from a combination of fluvial and debris flow processes. Correct identification of process is critical to reconstructing the climate and water histories of alluvial fans on Earth and Mars. Theory and data from subaerial Earth fans are often used to estimate paleoflow discharges and sediment fluxes for martian fans; however, most terrestrial work has been conducted on fans that are in hot, dry climates with runoff sourced from rainfall. This differs from the prevailing interpretation that martian fans were sourced from snowmelt under warming periglacial conditions. To characterize processes and rates of periglacial fan formation, we conducted a field-based study of the Black Mountain alluvial fan in the Aklavik Range, Canada. We observed active fluvial bedload transport as well as several small debris flows that had initiated from ice-filled gullies. Following a runoff event of ∼0.005 mm/hr to ∼0.2 mm/hr across the fan, we estimated sediment fluxes of ∼0.04 m3/hr. Under bankfull conditions, we estimated runoff rates between ∼0.01 mm/hr to ∼14 mm/hr and corresponding sediment fluxes of ∼0.3 m3/hr to ∼550 m3/hr. This suggests that moderate flow events, well below the maximum runoff production rates suggested for Mars, are capable of entraining and transporting appreciable amounts of sediment by fluvial processes. However, sedimentological and geomorphological observations suggest that ∼67% of the fan was deposited fluvially; the remainder was deposited by mass flows. Our results emphasize the need to take care in interpreting martian sedimentary processes and climate from fan surface morphology alone.
Rates and processes controlling periglacial alluvial fan formation: Implications for martian fans
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Marisa C. Palucis, A.M. Morgan, J.V. Strauss, F. Rivera-Hernandez, J.A. Marshall, E. Menio, R. Miller; Rates and processes controlling periglacial alluvial fan formation: Implications for martian fans. GSA Bulletin 2022; doi: https://doi.org/10.1130/B36459.1
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