Debris flows from small catchments of the Ma Ha Tuak Range, metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona

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15 Scopus citations


Debris flows debauch from tiny but steep mountain catchments throughout metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Urban growth in the past half-decade has led to home construction directly underneath hundreds of debris-flow channels, but debris flows are not recognized as a potential hazard at present. One of the first steps in a hazard assessment is to determine occurrence rates. The north flank of the Ma Ha Tuak Range, just 10. km from downtown Phoenix, was selected to determine the feasibility of using the varnish microlaminations (VML) method to date every debris-flow levee from 127 catchment areas. Only 152 of the 780 debris-flow levees yielded VML ages in a first round of sampling; this high failure rate is due to erosion of VML by microcolonial fungi. The temporal pattern of preserved debris-flow levees indicates anomalously high production of debris flows at about 8.1. ka and about 2.8. ka, corresponding to Northern Hemisphere climatic anomalies. Because many prior debris flows are obliterated by newer events, the minimum overall occurrence rates of 1.3 debris flows per century for the last 60. ka, 2.2 flows/century for the latest Pleistocene, and 5 flows/century for the last 8.1. ka has little meaning in assessment of a contemporary hazard. This is because newer debris flows have obliterated an unknown number of past deposits. More meaningful to a hazards analysis is the estimate that 56 flows have occurred in the last 100. years on the north side of the range, an estimate that is consistent with direct observations of three small debris flows resulting events from a January 18-22, 2010 storm producing 70. mm of precipitation in the Ma Ha Tuak Range, and a 500. m long debris flow in a northern metropolitan Phoenix location that received over 150. mm of precipitation in this same storm. These findings support the need for a more extensive hazard assessment of debris flows in metropolitan Phoenix.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-352
Number of pages14
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • Dating
  • Debris flows
  • Desert varnish
  • Geomorphology
  • Rock varnish
  • Urban hazard

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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