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Alluvial fan sediments and surface ages resulting from differing climatic and tectonic conditions in Star Valley, Wyoming, USA

Palmquist, Robert C.
Catena 2019 v.181 pp. 104050
atmospheric precipitation, sediments, semiarid zones, soil, subhumid zones, tectonics, topography, Wyoming
Alluvial fans occur in all climatic and tectonic environments. However, most descriptions of fan features and sediments have focused on arid and semiarid regions. This paper describes the sediments and soil ages on 63 alluvial fans in a subhumid climate (mean annual precipitation of 45–52 cm). SSURGO soil data were merged with geologic and topographic data in the ArcMap© GIS platform to develop a series of maps showing variations across fan surfaces in sediment textures and surface stability ages. Particle size data (percent cobble and percent total gravel) from the upper 150 cm of sediments cluster into six textural groups that are aligned along a trend of decreasing gravel percentage (decreasing stream capacity) and decreasing cobble percentage (decreasing stream competency). The groups of higher cobble and gravel percentages extend from fan apex to toe in both the shallow (<50 cm depth) and deeper (>100 cm depth) layers with groups of lower cobble and gravel percentage occurring along fan margins in the shallow (<50 cm depth) layer. The thickness of B and Bt horizons from representative soil profiles were used to calculate proportional soil ages based on 10Be residence times in loessial Bt horizons and correlation of gravelly fan soils to similar gravelly soils on nearby Pinedale outwash. This approach identified six stability episodes since the end of the Bull Lake beginning at ~100 ka, ~38 ka, ~27 ka, ~16 ka, ~10 ka, and <2 ka. The proportional soil ages correlate closely with fan chronologies constrained by TL and OSL ages in nearby areas. Soil ages and sediment textural groups differed between fan populations along the mountain front with active faulting and those along the stable mountain front. Fan stability surfaces older than 16 ka are preserved only at fault termini. Holocene faulting resulted in fans with (1) coarser sediments, (2) younger sediments, (3) progressive onlap of younger sediments, (4) the absence of relic fan surfaces, landslides and colluvium at the mountain front, and (5) the onlap of alluvial fans onto the floodplain of the axial stream. Sediment pulses related to individual fault events could not be definitively identified because of concurrent climatic changes. The study demonstrates that both climatic and tectonic conditions influence sediment textures and fan surfaces ages.