Climate-change versus landslide origin of fill terraces in a rapidly eroding bedrock landscape: San Gabriel River, California

Dirk Scherler, Michael P. Lamb, Edward J. Rhodes, Jean Philippe Avouac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Fill terraces along rivers represent the legacy of aggradation periods that are most commonly attributed to climate change. In the North Fork of the San Gabriel River, an arid bedrock landscape in the San Gabriel Mountains, California, a series of prominent fill terraces was previously related to climatechange- induced pulses of hillslope sediment supply that temporarily and repeatedly overwhelmed river transport capacity during the Quaternary. Based on field observations, digital topographic analysis, and dating of Quaternary deposits, we suggest instead that valley aggradation was spatially confined to the North Fork San Gabriel Canyon and was a consequence of the sudden supply of unconsolidated material to upstream reaches by one of the largest known landslides in the San Gabriel Mountains. New 10Be-derived surface exposure ages from the landslide deposits, previously assumed to be early to middle Pleistocene in age, indicate at least three Holocene events at ca. 8-9 ka, ca. 4-5 ka, and ca. 0.5-1 ka. The oldest and presumably most extensive landslide predates the valley aggradation period, which is constrained by existing 14C ages and new luminescence ages to ca. 7-8 ka. The spatial distribution, morphology, and sedimentology of the river terraces are consistent with deposition from far-traveling debris flows that originated within, and mined, the landslide deposits. Valley aggradation in the North Fork San Gabriel Canyon therefore resulted from locally enhanced sediment supply that temporarily overwhelmed river transport capacity, but the lack of similar deposits in other parts of the San Gabriel Mountains argues against a regional climatic signal. Our study highlights the potential for valley aggradation by debris flows in arid bedrock landscapes downstream of landslides that occupy headwater areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1228-1248
Number of pages21
JournalBulletin of the Geological Society of America
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Jan 2016


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