The Impact of Sediment Supply on the Initiation and Magnitude of Runoff-Generated Debris Flows

Hui Tang, Luke A. McGuire, Jason W. Kean, Joel B. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Rainfall intensity-duration (ID) thresholds are commonly used to assess the potential for runoff-generated debris flows, but the sensitivity of these thresholds to sediment supply, which can change rapidly with time, is relatively unexplored. Furthermore, debris flows often self-organize into distinct surges, but the factors controlling the magnitude and frequency of these surges, including sediment supply and grain size, are poorly constrained. We use a combination of numerical modeling and debris flow monitoring data from Chalk Cliffs, Colorado, USA, to explore how sediment supply influences rainfall ID thresholds for debris flows and surge properties. Results suggest that rainfall ID thresholds only become sensitive to sediment supply below a sediment thickness threshold. Surge magnitude is a nonmonotonic function of sediment supply (i.e., channel bed sediment thickness and grain size) with the largest surges tending to form at intermediate values of sediment availability with intermediate grain sizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020GL087643
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 28 2020


  • Chalk Cliffs
  • debris flow
  • grain size
  • numerical model
  • rainfall intensity-duration thresholds
  • sediment supply

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'The Impact of Sediment Supply on the Initiation and Magnitude of Runoff-Generated Debris Flows'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this