Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 318–326 | Cite as

Distribution of debris flows in Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.A.

  • Forrest D. WilkersonEmail author
  • Ginger L. Schmid


The spectacular scenery of Glacier National Park is the result of glacial erosion as well as post-glacial mass wasting processes. Debris flow magnitude and frequency have been established through extensive fieldwork across seven separate drainage basins in the eastern portion of the park. This paper summarizes the investigation of the hypotheses that debris flow distribution in the Glacier National Park, east of the Continental Divide is (a) not random; and (b) concentrated adjacent to the Continental Divide. The location of 2317 debris flows were identified and mapped from sixty-three 1-m resolution Digital Orthophoto Quarter Quadrangles and their spatial distribution was then analyzed using ArcView Spatial Analyst GIS software. The GIS analysis showed that the debris flows are not randomly distributed nor are they concentrated directly adjacent to the Divide. While the Continental Divide provides orographic enhancement of precipitation directly adjacent to the Divide, the debris flows are not concentrated there due to a lack of available weathered regolith. The most recent Little Ice Age glaciation removed the debris directly adjacent to the Divide, and without an adequate debris supply, these steep slopes experience few debris flows. Both abundant water and an adequate debris supply are necessary to initiate slope failure, resulting in a clustering of debris flows at the break in slope where valley walls contact talus slopes. A variety of summer storm and antecedent moisture conditions initiate slope failures in the Glacier National Park, with no distinct meteorological threshold. With over two million visitors every year, and millions of dollars of park infrastructure at risk, identifying the hazard of debris flows is essential to future park management plans.


Debris flows remote sensing GIS Glacier National Park USA 


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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyMinnesota State UniversityMankatoUSA

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