A Quantitative Assessment of the Sedimentology and Geomorphology of Rock Avalanche Deposits

  • Dan H. ShugarEmail author
  • John J. Clague
  • Marco Giardino


We use digital photo-sieving and spatial statistics to quantify the debris of three landslides on Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska, and the non-glacial Frank Slide, Alberta. The debris sheets on Black Rapids Glacier have clusters of large blocks in parts of their distal rims; small clusters of large blocks also occur elsewhere, including the proximal side of a high medial moraine. Longitudinal flowbands formed by shearing within the debris and marked by different block sizes characterize all three Black Rapids debris sheets. In contrast, no flowbands are evident on the Frank Slide debris sheet. Especially large blocks form a conspicuous cluster in the middle of the Frank Slide debris sheet. The distal edge is composed of small blocks. The presence of many of the largest blocks at the peripheries of the three Black Rapids Glacier debris sheets indicates that the landslides spread without confinement. The lack of a coarse distal rim at Frank may indicate that the irregular topography over which the debris traveled influenced the distribution of the largest blocks. Patches of different types of carbonate rock within the Frank Slide debris sheet indicate that source-zone stratigraphy is preserved within the debris sheet. Differences among the studied debris sheets reflect different paths and substrates over which the landslides traveled: unconfined spreading and continuous, progressive thinning of debris traversing a relatively flat surface of snow and ice at Black Rapids Glacier; and topography-controlled spreading over an irregular rising and vegetated surface at Frank.


Rock avalanche Glacier Sedimentology Geomatics Frank Slide Black Rapids Glacier 



This work was funded through an NSERC Discovery Grant to Clague and an NSERC-PGS doctoral scholarship, a GSA Bruce ‘Biff’ Reed research grant, Northern Scientific Training Program grants and an Arctic Institute of North America Grant-in-Aid to Shugar. Giardino was supported by ICCS-FEP 2009. EACEA and HRSDC provided funds through the EU-Canada cooperation project “geoNatHaz”, whose participants are acknowledged for assistance in the field in 2010. We thank Steve Sparks (Aero-Metric, Fairbanks, Alaska) for providing aerial photographs of Black Rapids Glacier, and the Geological Survey of Canada for providing the orthophotograph of Frank Slide. Mark Hird-Rutter helped in producing the digital elevation model of Black Rapids Glacier. Jon Pasher (Environment Canada, Ottawa, Canada) and Dan Patterson (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada) provided assistance with digital photo-sieving.


  1. Cruden DM, Hungr O (1986) The debris of the Frank Slide and theories of rockslide-avalanche mobility. Can J Earth Sci 23(3):425–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Dufresne A, Davies TR (2009) Longitudinal ridges in mass movement deposits. Geomorphology 105(3–4):171–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Hewitt K (1999) Quaternary moraines vs catastrophic rock avalanches in the Karakoram Himalaya, Northern Pakistan. Quaternary Res 51(3):220–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Hsü KJ (1975) Catastrophic debris streams (sturzstroms) generated by rockfalls. Geol Soc of Am Bull 86(1):129–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ibbeken H, Schleyer R (1986) Photo-sieving – a method for grain-size analysis of coarse-grained, unconsolidated bedding surfaces. Earth Surf Proc Land 11(1):59–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Jibson RW, Harp EL, Schulz W, Keefer DK (2004) Landslides triggered by the 2002 Denali fault, Alaska, earthquake and the inferred nature of the strong shaking. Earthquake Spectra 20(3):669–691CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Langenberg CW, Pana D, Richards BC, Spratt DA, Lamb MA (2007) Structural geology of the Turtle mountain area near Frank, Alberta. Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board/Alberta Geological Survey, Earth Sciences Report 2007–03. EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  8. Larsen SH, Davies TRH, McSaveney MJ (2005) A possible coseismic landslide origin of late Holocene moraines of the Southern Alps, New Zealand. New Zeal J Geol Geophys 48(2):311–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Locat P, Couture R, Leroueil S, Locat J, Jaboyedoff M (2006) Fragmentation energy in rock avalanches. Can Geotech J 43(8):830–851CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. McConnell RG, Brock RW (1904) Report on the great landslide at Frank, Alta. 1903. Annual report. Part VIII. Department of the Interior Dominion of Canada, OttawaGoogle Scholar
  11. Nicoletti PG, Sorriso-Valvo M (1991) Geomorphic controls of the shape and mobility of rock avalanches. Geol Soc Am Bull 103(10):1365–1373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Patterson DE (2008) Bounding containers ArcGIS toolbox. Accessed 1 Oct 2008
  13. Porter SC, Orombelli G (1980) Catastrophic rockfall of September 12, 1717 on the Italian flank of the Mont Blanc massif. Z Geomorphol 24:200–218Google Scholar
  14. Shreve RL (1968) Sherman landslide. In: The great Alaska earthquake of 1964 – hydrology, Pt. A. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, pp 395–401Google Scholar
  15. Shugar DH, Clague JJ (in press) The sedimentology and geomorphology of rock avalanche deposits on glaciers. Sedimentology. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3091.2011.01238.x
  16. Shulmeister J, Davies TR, Evans DJA, Hyatt OM, Tovar DS (2009) Catastrophic landslides, glacier behaviour and moraine formation – a view from an active plate margin. Quaternary Sci Rev 28(11–12):1085–1096CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dan H. Shugar
    • 1
    Email author
  • John J. Clague
    • 1
  • Marco Giardino
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesCentre for Natural Hazard Research, Simon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of TorinoTorinoItaly

Personalised recommendations