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Postglacial chronology of large earthflows in south-central British Columbia Jones, Penelope Sarah Ann


Fifty-three earthflows in south-central British Columbia were identified from an air photograph search and from a review of previous geologic reports. Many have parallel 'en echelon1 lateral deposits indicative of several movement phases during the postglacial period, and some have been active during the present century up to the time of the study. The purpose of this study was to date phases of earthflow activity during the postglacial period and relate them to climatic fluctuations. Earthflows in the study area are concentrated in serpentinised peridotite, basalt, sediments (mainly volcaniclastics), and other volcanics. Earthflows take place preferentially down dip in sediments and many are associated with fault lines. All earthflow materials, except those derived from serpentinised peridotite, weather to montmorillonite-rich material, and each yields a characteristic grain-size distribution. Earthflow gradient in the study area depends upon material type, indicating that earthflow texture and mineralogy govern shearing resistance and hence partially determine characteristic slope angles. Earthflow movement during the past 60 years was investigated using air photograph chronosequences dating back to 1928. Reactivations of six flows were identified in the period 1950 to 1960, and an analysis of precipitation records from four stations around the study area showed that the level of winter precipitation increased around 1950. It was concluded that the observed reactivation was a response to rising groundwater levels during a period of increased winter precipitation. Earthflow movement and climatic fluctuations over the last 200 years were investigated in an analysis of tree-ring width records at four sites. Moist phases were recorded in the periods 1800-1830, 1870-1920 and from 1945 to the present. Compression wood formation at three sites corresponded with moist phases, so it was concluded that, over the last two centuries, earthflow movement was probably coincident with phases of higher precipitation. A postglacial climatic chronology was inferred from published pollen analyses and from Neoglacial ice fluctuations, both within and outside the study area. New palynological data were collected from Red Mountain, a high elevation site in the west of the study area. These showed a two-phase cooling period following the close of the Hypsithermal. The first cooling period took place around 6-7,000 BP, and the second around 3,000 BP. Earthflow movement during the postglacial period was analysed using radiocarbon dates, tephrochronology, stratigraphy, carbonate accumulation, and earthflow morphology. Data from twenty-one sites showed that movement was concentrated mainly after 7,000 BP, and at several sites the stratigraphic position of the Bridge River tephra dated movement around 2,400 BP. It was concluded that, at this longer timescale, movement at many sites could be attributed to post-Hypsithermal climatic deterioration.

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