Mass Wasting in the Swauk Watershed, Washington

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Mass wasting evidence is common along the margins of the Columbia River Basalts. I identified, mapped, dated, and assessed the environment of nearly 160 discrete slope failures (excluding rockfall) along the margins of the Columbia River Basalts in the Swauk watershed of central Washington. Rotational slides, translational slides, flows, and complex slide-flows were identified via topographic map, airphoto, and field analysis. Geographic information systems analysis revealed that these features cover 38% of the watershed. Translational slides are the most numerous of the slope failures, whereas complex slide-flows cover the most area. I placed each slope failure into a relative age category (active, inactive-young, inactive mature, and inactive-old) based on the characteristics of the main scarp, lateral flanks, internal morphology, vegetation cover, and toe relationships. Most Swauk watershed slope failures are inactive-mature. Organic sediments from an inactive-mature sag pond formed ∼6880 14C yr BP, whereas inactive-young sediments dated at ∼5930 14C yr BP. Inactive slope failures are often associated with steep slopes, inclined beds, incompetent geologic units, or streamcuts. Streamcuts, roadcuts, or clearcuts typically accompany active slope failures. Rain-on-snow events and associated mass wasting in winter 1996 provide a plausible trigger analog for inactive mass wasting. Rockfall deposits cover ∼29% of the watershed, range from inactive to active in age, and occur atop pre-existing slope failures in well-jointed Columbia River Basalts. Mass wasting has played a key role in shaping the topographic and hydrologic patterns of the watershed.


This article was originally published in Physical Geography. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Physical Geography


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