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Holocene sedimentary history of Chilliwack Valley, Northern Cascade Mountains Tunnicliffe, Jon Francis

Abstract

I seek to reconstruct the balance between sediment storage and yield across multiple drainage basin scales in a large (1 230 km2) watershed in the Northern Cascade range, British Columbia and Washington. Chilliwack Valley and surrounding area has been the site of numerous studies that have detailed much of its Quaternary sedimentary history. In the present study this information is supplemented by reconstruction of the morphodynamic trajectory of the river valley though the Holocene Epoch, and development of a sediment transfer model that describes the relaxation from the Fraser glaciation. The total Holocene sediment yield is estimated from basins across several scales using field and remotely sensed evidence to constrain the historical mass balance of delivery to higher order tributary basins. Rates of hillslope erosion are estimated using a diffusion-based relation for open slopes and delimitating the volume evacuated from major gully sources. Digital terrain models of paleo-surfaces are constructed to calculate total sediment erosion and deposition from tributary valleys and the mainstem. Chilliwack Lake has effectively trapped the entire post-glacial sediment load from the upper catchment (area = 334 km2), allowing to compare this "nested" system with the larger catchment. Rates of lake sediment accumulation are estimated using sediment cores and paleomagnetism. These are compared with accumulation rates in the terminal fan inferred from radiocarbon dating of fossil material, obtained by sonic drilling in the apex gravels. A sediment budget framework is then used to summarize the net transfer of weathered material and glacial sediments from the hillslope scale to the mainstem. The long-term average sediment yield from the upper basin is 62 +/- 9 t/km2/yr; contemporary yield is approximately 30 t/km2/yr. It is found that only 10-15% of the material eroded from the hillslopes is delivered to mouths of the major tributaries; the remaining material is stored at the base of footslopes and within the fluvial sedimentary system. Since the retreat of Fraser Ice from the mouth of the valley, Chilliwack River delivered over 1.8 +/- 0.21 km3 of gravel and sand to Vedder Fan in the Fraser Valley. In the sediment budget developed here, roughly 85% of that material is attributed to glacial sources, notably the Ryder Uplands and glacial valley fills deposited along the mainstem, upstream of Tamihi Creek. In tributary valleys, local base-level has fallen, leading to the evacuation of deep glacial sedimentary fills. Many of the lower reaches of major tributaries in upper Chilliwack Valley (e.g. Centre and Nesakwatch Creeks) remain primarily sediment sinks for slope-derived inputs, since base-level fall has not been initiated. In distal tributaries (Liumchen, Tamihi and Slesse creeks), paraglacial fans have been incised or completely eroded, entrained by laterally active channels. A transition from transport-limited to supply-limited conditions has been effected in many of these reaches. Slesse Creek has struck an intermediate balance, as it continues to remobilize its considerable sediment stores. It functions today as the sedimentary headwaters of Chilliwack Valley. Using grain size data and fine-sediment geochemical data gathered from Chilliwack River over the course of several field seasons, a simple finite-difference, surface-based sediment transport model is proposed. The aim of the model is to integrate the sediment-balance information, as inferred from estimates of hillslope erosion and valley storage, and physical principles of sediment transport dynamics to reproduce the key characteristics of a system undergoing base-level fall and reworking its considerable valley fill during degradation. Such characteristics include the river long profile, the river grain-size fining gradient, the percentage of substrate sand, and the diminution of headwater granite lithology in the active load. The model is able to reproduce many of the characteristics, but is not able to satisfy all criteria simultaneously. There is inevitably some ambiguity as to the set of parameters that produce the "right" result, however the model provides good insight into long-term interactions among parameters such as dominant discharge, grain size specifications, abrasion rates, initial topography, hiding functions, and hydraulic parameters.

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