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Keywords:

  • Alluvial fans;
  • California;
  • Death Valley;
  • debris flows;
  • Lake Manly

Facies analysis of widely distributed exposures of the 32·6 km2 and 8·1-km-long Warm Spring Canyon fan, central Death Valley, shows that it has been built principally by debris-flow deposits. These deposits were derived from a mature Panamint Range catchment mostly underlain by Precambrian mudrock, quartzite and dolomite. Stacked, clast-rich and matrix-supported debris-flow lobes of slightly bouldery, muddy, pebble–cobble gravel in beds 20–150 cm thick dominate the fan from apex to toe, accounting for 75–98% of most exposures. Interstratified with the debris flows are less abundant (2–25% of cuts), thinner (5–30 cm) and more discontinuous beds of clast-supported and imbricated, pebble–cobble gravel deposited by overland flows and gully flows. This facies formed by the surficial fine-fraction water winnowing of the debris flows primarily during recessional flood stage of the debris-flow events. Two other facies associations make up a small part of the fan. The incised-channel tract consists of a 250-m-wide clast-supported ribbon of irregularly to thickly bedded, boulder, pebble, cobble gravel nested within debris-flow deposits. This channel fill is oriented generally perpendicular to the Panamint range front. It formed by extensive erosion and winnowing of debris flows deposited within the incised channel, into which all water discharge from the catchment is funnelled. The limited presence of this facies only straddling the present incised channel indicates that this channel overall has maintained a consistent position on the fan except for slight lateral shifts, some caused by strike-slip offset. Fault offset temporarily closed the upper incised channel, causing recessional debris-flow mud to be ponded behind the dam. The other local facies assemblage consists of subrounded to rounded, moderately sorted pebble gravel in low-angle cross-beds that slope both basinwards and fanwards. This gravel was deposited in beachface, backshore and shoreface barrier-spit environments that developed where Lake Manly impinged on the Warm Spring fan during late Pleistocene time. These deposits straddle headcuts into, and were derived from, erosion of the debris-flow deposits. Wave energy sorted finer sediment from the shore zone, concentrated coarser sediment and rounded the coarse to very coarse pebble fraction by selective reworking.