EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The remobilisation of seismically-sourced sediment by debris flows in Wenchuan: A grain size perspective

Erin Harvey1, Xuanmei Fan2, Tristram Hales1,3, Daniel Hobley1, Jie Liu2, Qiang Xu2, and Runqiu Huang2
Erin Harvey et al.
  • 1Cardiff University, Cardiff University, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (
  • 2The State Key Laboratory of Geohazard Prevention and Geoenvironment Protection, Chengdu University of Technology, Chengdu 610059, Sichuan, China
  • 3Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University 33 Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3BA

Co-seismic landslides can mobilise up to 3 km3 of loose sediment within minutes. However, the export rate of this sediment is largely unconstrained. For example, it is estimated that a decade after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake at least 90% of the co-seismic sediment remains stored on the hillslope. Post-earthquake debris flows are the main conduit by which such hillslope debris reaches the fluvial network but the mechanics that govern the triggering and runout of such flows remain unclear and as such they appear to behave largely unpredictably.  Material grain size is a key control on both triggering and runout, since it affects both hydrological (e.g. water loss during flow; saturation state before triggering) and frictional properties of the system. However, our understanding of the role of grain size in the genesis and evolution of debris flows remains poorly explored, largely due to limitations in real field data. Existing estimates for landslide and debris flow deposit grain size distributions (GSDs) are currently limited by 1. inconsistency of applied methods; 2. the very poor sorting of these sediments; 3. inaccessibility, and 4. inherent intra-deposit variability in GSD. 

Our research aims to better understand the role of grain size using an unprecedentedly detailed set of field-constrained GSDs across the post-seismic landslides and debris flows of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Here we present data quantifying the grain size distribution across two debris flows using two different techniques. The two debris flows occurred in response to prolonged rainfall in August 2019 and mobilised co-seismic debris from the 2008 earthquake. In the field, we selected four to eight 1 m x 1 m x 0.5 m pits along the centre line of each debris flow at regular intervals and sieved the pit material into 8 cm, 4 cm, 2 cm and 1 cm fractions at 10 cm depth increments. Boulders >8 cm were measured and weighed individually. Smaller samples were then collected from the finer fraction (<1 cm) and sieved further in the laboratory. The coarse fraction was independently constrained from calibrated photogrammetry, and this was coupled to drone surveying to ensure the coarsest fraction (≥1 m) was correctly represented. This study presents a detailed estimate of post-earthquake debris flow GSDs with the overarching aim to better understand sediment transport and deposition from debris flows in the years following an earthquake.

How to cite: Harvey, E., Fan, X., Hales, T., Hobley, D., Liu, J., Xu, Q., and Huang, R.: The remobilisation of seismically-sourced sediment by debris flows in Wenchuan: A grain size perspective, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-19439,, 2020.


Display file

Comments on the display

AC: Author Comment | CC: Community Comment | Report abuse

displays version 1 – uploaded on 01 May 2020, no comments