Relationships between debris fan morphology and flow rheology for wet and dry flows on Earth and Mars: A numerical modeling investigation

Luke A. McGuire, Jon D. Pelletier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Liquid water may have flowed on the Martian surface in the recent geologic past. Arguments for and against liquid water flows have been made, in part, using interpretations of the morphology of Martian gullies and their associated debris fans. On Earth, sediment transport on steep, debris-flow-dominated hillslopes is often assumed to be a nonlinear function of hillslope gradient. In detail, however, sediment transport on such slopes must also depend on the rheology of the mass movements that drive the majority of transport, both in magnitude and frequency. In this study, we attempt to provide a firmer basis for (1) interpreting flow constituents and/or rheology from debris-fan morphology on Mars and (2) modeling debris-flow-dominated hillslopes on Earth by developing a mass-conservative numerical model that links the rheology of wet and dry granular flows on steep slopes to the morphology of debris fans deposited at their base. Individual flows are routed from initiation points on a slope to stopping points at the base of the hillslope. Model predictions for the shape and average slope of the fans depend on flow rheology. Model results indicate that debris fans associated with dry granular flows may develop average slopes below the kinetic angle of friction. In both the dry and wet cases, the model results suggest that fan morphology depends on the mean properties of the flows involved in fan formation as well as the amount of variation in flow behavior between individual mass movement events. These results provide an improved basis for interpreting the morphology of debris fans on both Earth and Mars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-155
Number of pages11
StatePublished - 2013


  • Debris fan
  • Morphology
  • Numerical model
  • Rheology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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