Debris flow

Debris flow
Scars formed by debris flow in great Los Angeles during the winter of 1968-1969. The photograph was taken within several months of the debris flows occurring.

A debris flow is a fast moving, liquefied landslide of unconsolidated, saturated debris that looks like flowing concrete. It is differentiated from a mudflow in terms of the viscosity and textural properties of the flow. Flows can carry material ranging in size from clay to boulders, and may contain a large amount of woody debris such as logs and tree stumps. Flows can be triggered by intense rainfall, glacial melt, or a combination of the two. Speed of debris flows can vary from 5 km/h to up to 80 km/h in extreme cases. Volumes of material delivered by single events vary from less than 100 to more than 100,000 cubic metres. Variables considered important in debris flow initiation include slope angle, available loose sediment, and degree of land disturbance by activities such as forest harvesting. Debris flows are often more frequent following forest and brush fires, as experience in southern California clearly demonstrates. Debris flows are extremely destructive to life and property, and claim thousands of lives world-wide in any given year. They are a particular problem in steep mountainous areas subjected to intense rainstorms, and have received particular attention from researchers in Japan, Western USA, Western Canada, New Zealand, the European Alps, and Kazakhstan.[1]


Features and behavior

Almaty, Kazakhstan, after the catastrophic debris flow of 1921. A number of facilities, including the Medeu Dam, have been built since to prevent flows of this kind from reaching the city.[1]
Ancient debris flow deposit, Resting Springs Pass, California.

Debris flows generally form when unconsolidated material becomes saturated and unstable, either on a hillslope or in a stream channel. Flows are accelerated downhill by gravity and tend to follow steep mountain channels. The front, or 'head' of debris flow often contains a great deal of coarser material such as boulders and logs. Trailing behind this frontal lobe is the less viscous, main part of the flow that contains sand, silt and clay. Debris flows eventually become 'thinner', or less viscous, muddy flood waters as they deposit their coarser components in areas of reduced gradient. Debris flows tend to move in pulses, or discrete surges, as friction or other barriers are overcome during the flow. Sometimes earlier pulses or previous debris flow deposits form levees which confine the flow until they are breached by later, larger flows. The presence of older levees (a.k.a. lateral deposits) provides some idea of the magnitudes of previous debris flows in a particular area, and through dating of trees growing on such deposits, may indicate the approximate frequency of destructive debris flows. This is important information for land development in areas where debris flows deposit material, known as debris fans and alluvial fans. The big debris flow or landslide is called yamatsunami (山津波), literally mountain tsunami in Japan.



A lahar is a debris flow related in some way to volcanic activity, either directly as a result of an eruption, or indirectly by the collapse of loose material from the flanks of a recently active volcano. A variety of factors may trigger a lahar, including melting of glacial ice due to volcanic activity or pyroclastic flow, intense rainfall on loose pyroclastic material, or the out bursting of a lake that was previously dammed by pyroclastic or glacial material. The word lahar is of Indonesian origin, but is now routinely used by geologists world-wide to describe volcanogenic debris flows.


A jökulhlaup is a debris flow that originates from a glacial outburst flood. Jökulhlaup is an Icelandic word which refers specifically to floods having a glacial trigger. In the case of Iceland, many such floods are triggered by sub-glacial volcanic eruptions, since Iceland sits atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Elsewhere, a more common cause of jökulhlaups is the breaching of ice-dammed or moraine-dammed lakes. Such breaching events are often caused by the sudden calving of glacier ice into a lake, which then causes a displacement wave to breach a moraine or ice dam. Downvalley of the breach point, a jökulhlaup may increase greatly in size through entrainment of loose sediment and water from the valley through which it travels. Travel distances may exceed 100 km.

Theories and models of debris flows

Debris flows as mud flows

  • Rheologically based models that apply to mud flows that are treated as a homogeneous liquid (Examples include: Bingham, visco-plastic, Bagnold-type dilatant fluid, thixotropic, etc.)
  • The mixture theory of Iverson[2]
  • Dam break wave e.g. Hunt,[3] Chanson et al.[4], Pudasaini[5]
  • Roll wave Takahashi,[6] Davies[7]
  • Non-linear kinematic waves of grain-inertial and macroviscous fluids/velocity field through the flow depth: Pudasaini[5]

Unsaturated "rocky" or "stony" debris flows

  • Progressive wave-Hungr[8]
  • A type of translating rock dam-Coleman[9]

Topographic effects in debris flows

  • Debris flows in curved and twisted channels generate: "flow over-banking, super-elevation and centrifugal effects; diverging and converging flows" -Pudasaini et al.[10]

Fluid effects in debris flows

  • Presence of fluid in debris flows can lead to: "levee formations" -Pudasaini et al.[10]


  1. ^ a b Jakob, Matthias; Hungr, Oldrich (2005), Debris-flow hazards and related phenomena, Springer, pp. 38–39, ISBN 3540207260, 
  2. ^ Iverson, R.M., 1997, The physics of debris flows, Reviews of Geophysics, 35(3): 245-296.
  3. ^ Hunt,B. (1982). "Asymptotic Solution for Dam-Break Problems." Jl of Hyd. Div., Proceedings, ASCE, Vol. 108, No. HY1, pp. 115-126.
  4. ^ Hubert Chanson, Sebastien Jarny & Philippe Coussot (2006). Dam Break Wave of Thixotropic Fluid. Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, ASCE, Vol. 132, No. 3, pp. 280-293 (doi:10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9429(2006)132:3(280)). 
  5. ^ a b Pudasaini, S.P. (2011). "Some exact solutions for debris and avalanche flows". Physics of Fluids 23 (4): 043301. doi:10.1063/1.3570532. 
  6. ^ Takahashi, T., 1981. Debris flow, Annu. Rev. Fluid Mech., 13, 57–77.
  7. ^ Davies,T.R.H. 1986. Large debris flows: a macro-viscous problem. Acta Mechanica, 63, 161-178.
  8. ^ Hungr,O. 2000. Analysis of debris flow surges using the theory of uniformly progressive flow. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 25, 483-495
  9. ^ Coleman, P. F., 1993. A new explanation for debris flow surge phenomena (abstract), Eos Trans. AGU, 74(16), Spring Meet. Suppl., 154.
  10. ^ a b Pudasaini, S. P., Wang, Y., Hutter, K., 2005. Modelling debris flows down general channels. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 5, 799–819,

Further reading

  • McPhee, John. The Control of Nature. New York: Noonday Press (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989 ISBN 0-374-12890-1)
  • Pudasaini, Shiva P., Hutter, Kolumban, Avalanche Dynamics: Dynamics of Rapid Flows of Dense Granular Avalanches. Springer, Berlin, New York, 2007, ISBN 3-540-32686-3

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Debris Flow — Ein Schuttstrom, im geologischen Fachgebrauch auch mit dem englischen Wort debris flow bezeichnet, ist eine Massenbewegung, bei der Gerölle, Steine und Felsblöcke, in manchen Fällen auch Pflanzen, Bäume oder anderer Schutt in einer schlammigen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Debris flow — Ein Schuttstrom, im geologischen Fachgebrauch auch mit dem englischen Wort debris flow bezeichnet, ist eine Massenbewegung, bei der Gerölle, Steine und Felsblöcke, in manchen Fällen auch Pflanzen, Bäume oder anderer Schutt in einer schlammigen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • debris flow —    The mass movement process, associated sediments (debris flow deposit), or resultant landform characterized by a very rapid type of flow dominated by a sudden downslope movement of a mass of rock, soil, and mud (more than 50% of the particles… …   Glossary of landform and geologic terms

  • debris flow — ALASKA VOLCANO OBSERVATORY GLOSSARY A mixture of water saturated rock debris that flows downslope under the force of gravity (also called lahar or mudflow). GLOSSARY OF VOLCANIC TERMS A type of mass flow comprising a dense, cohesive, flowing… …   Glossary of volcanic terms

  • debris flow — /ˈdɛbri floʊ/ (say debree floh) noun a moving slurry of soil mixed with trees, rock fragments, etc., that are in its path, generated when a hillside becomes saturated with water, as from heavy rain or melting snow, and collapses; mudflow …   Australian English dictionary

  • supraglacial debris-flow sediment —    (not preferred)    refer to till …   Glossary of landform and geologic terms

  • Debris — (engl./frz. deɪˈbriː, dɛˈbriː, Überbleibsel, Rest, Abfall, Schmutz, Schutt, Geröll) steht für: Space Debris, siehe Weltraummüll Debris flow, in der Geologie ein Ausdruck für Schuttstrom Debris (Biologie), organisches Material, das im Meer zu… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Debris — For other uses, see Debris (disambiguation). Debris /dɨˈbriː/ is rubble, wreckage, ruins, litter and discarded garbage/refuse/trash, scattered remains of something destroyed, or, in geology, large rock fragments left by a melting glacier etc. The …   Wikipedia

  • debris avalanche —    The mass movement process, associated sediments (debris avalanche deposit), or resultant landform characterized by a very rapid to extremely rapid type of flow dominated by the sudden downslope movement of incoherent, unsorted mixtures of soil …   Glossary of landform and geologic terms

  • flow —    A category of mass movement processes, associated sediments (flow deposit) and landforms characterized by slow to very rapid downslope movement of unconsolidated material which, whether saturated or comparatively dry, behaves much as a viscous …   Glossary of landform and geologic terms

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.