Late Pleistocene outburst flooding from pluvial Lake Alvord into the Owyhee River, Oregon
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At least one large, late Pleistocene flood traveled into the Owyhee River as a result of a rise and subsequent outburst from pluvial Lake Alvord in southeastern Oregon. Lake Alvord breached Big Sand Gap in its eastern rim after reaching an elevation of 1292 m, releasing 11.3 km3 of water into the adjacent Coyote Basin as it eroded the Big Sand Gap outlet channel to an elevation of about 1280 m. The outflow filled and then spilled out of Coyote Basin through two outlets at 1278 m and into Crooked Creek drainage, ultimately flowing into the Owyhee and Snake Rivers. Along Crooked Creek, the resulting flood eroded canyons, stripped bedrock surfaces, and deposited numerous boulder bars containing imbricated clasts up to 4.1 m in diameter, some of which are located over 30 m above the present-day channel.
Critical depth calculations at Big Sand Gap show that maximum outflow from a 1292- to 1280-m drop in Lake Alvord was ∼ 10,000 m3 s− 1. Flooding became confined to a single channel approximately 40 km downstream of Big Sand Gap, where step-backwater calculations show that a much larger peak discharge of 40,000 m3 s− 1 is required to match the highest geologic evidence of the flood in this channel. This inconsistency can be explained by (1) a single 10,000 m3 s− 1 flood that caused at least 13 m of vertical incision in the channel (hence enlarging the channel cross-section); (2) multiple floods of 10,000 m3 s− 1 or less, each producing some incision of the channel; or (3) an earlier flood of 40,000 m3 s− 1 creating the highest flood deposits and crossed drainage divides observed along Crooked Creek drainage, followed by a later 10,000 m3 s− 1 flood associated with the most recent shorelines in Alvord and Coyote Basins.
Well-developed shorelines of Lake Alvord at 1280 m and in Coyote Basin at 1278 m suggest that after the initial flood, postflood overflow persisted for an extended period, connecting Alvord and Coyote Basins with the Owyhee River of the Columbia River drainage. Surficial weathering characteristics and planktonic freshwater diatoms in Lake Alvord sediment stratigraphically below Mt. St. Helens set Sg tephra, suggest deep open-basin conditions at ∼ 13–14 ka (14C yr) and that the flood and prominent shorelines date to about this time. But geomorphic and sedimentological evidence also show that Alvord and Coyote Basins held older, higher-elevation lakes that may have released earlier floods down Crooked Creek.
Carter, D. T., Ely, L. L., O’Connor, J. E., & Fenton, C. R. (2006). Late Pleistocene outburst flooding from pluvial Lake Alvord into the Owyhee River, Oregon. Geomorphology, 75(3–4), 346–367. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2005.07.023
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