Bentonite Debris Flows in Northern Alaska

Science  11 Apr 1969:
Vol. 164, Issue 3876, pp. 173-174
DOI: 10.1126/science.164.3876.173


Seasonal freezing and thawing and the extreme cold of the arctic lead to the development of a variety of characteristic geomorphic features. A new one, bentonite debris flow channels, has been identified near Umiat, Alaska. These flows form when bentonite-rich Cretaceous Shales are exposed to Surface water on slopes of 5 to 30 degrees. The characteristic landform developed is a U-shaped channel 1 to 2 meters deep and from 8 to 10 meters in width. The channel shows a fluted floor and walls and is commonly flanked by a levee. The flow material is appa rently derived from the entire surface of the head portions of associated gullies. When this surface layer hydrates during snowmelt and runoff or during prolonged rain, the bentonite imbibes water and swells to a point at which its viscosity is lowered sufficiently to initiate creep or viscous flow.