Sediment yield and runoff frequency of small drainage basins in the Mojave Desert, U.S.A

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Sediment yield from small arid basins, particularly in the Mojave Desert, is largely unknown owing to the ephemeral nature of these fluvial systems and long recurrence interval of flow events. We examined 27 reservoirs in the northern and eastern Mojave Desert that trapped sediment from small (< 1 km2) drainage basins on alluvial fans over the past 100 yr, calculated annual sediment yield, and estimated the average recurrence interval (RI) of sediment-depositing flow events. These reservoirs formed where railbeds crossed and blocked channels, causing sediment to be trapped and stored upslope. Deposits are temporally constrained by the date of railway construction (1906–1910), the presence of 137Cs in the reservoir profile (post-1952 sediment), and either 1993, when some basins breached during regional flooding, or 2000–2001, when stratigraphic analyses were performed. Reservoir deposits are well stratified at most sites and have distinct fining-upward couplets indicative of discrete episodes of sediment-bearing runoff. Average RI of runoff events for these basins ranges from 2.6 to 7.3 yr and reflects the incidence of either intense or prolonged rainfall; more than half the runoff events occurred before 1963. A period of above-normal precipitation, from 1905 to 1941, may have increased runoff frequency in these basins. Mean sediment yield (9 to 48 tons km− 2 yr− 1) is an order of magnitude smaller than sediment yields calculated elsewhere and may be limited by reduced storm intensity, the presence of desert pavement, and shallow gradient of fan surfaces. Sediment yield decreases as drainage area increases, a trend typical of much larger drainage basins where sediment-transport processes constrain sediment yield. Coarse substrate and low-angle slopes of these alluvial fan surfaces likely limit sediment transport capacity through transmission losses and channel storage.

    Study Area

    Publication type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Title Sediment yield and runoff frequency of small drainage basins in the Mojave Desert, U.S.A
    Series title Geomorphology
    DOI 10.1016/j.geomorph.2005.07.017
    Volume 74
    Issue 1-4
    Year Published 2006
    Language English
    Publisher Elsevier
    Contributing office(s) Rocky Mountain Regional Office
    Description 13 p.
    First page 232
    Last page 244
    Country United States
    State California
    Other Geospatial Mojave Desert
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