Controversy exists over whether alluvial-fan sedimentation along tectonically active mountain fronts is driven by climatic changes or tectonics. Knowing the age of sedimentation is the key to understanding the relationship between sedimentation and its cause. Alluvial-fan deposits in Death Valley and throughout the arid southwestern United States have long been the subjects of study, but their ages have generally eluded researchers until recently. Most mapping efforts have recognized at least four major relative-age groupings (Q1 (oldest), Q2, Q3, and Q4 (youngest)), using observed changes in surface soils and morphology, relation to the drainage net, and development of desert pavement. Obtaining numerical age determinations for these morphologic stages has proven challenging. We report the first optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) ages for three of these four stages deposited within alluvial-fans along the tectonically active Black Mountains of Death Valley. Deposits showing distinct, remnant bar and swale topography (Q3b) have OSL ages from 7 to 4 ka., whereas those with moderate to poorly developed desert pavement and located farther above the active channel (Q3a) have OSL ages from 17 to 11 ka. Geomorphically older deposits with well-developed desert pavement (Q2d) have OSL ages ∼25 ka. Using this OSL-based chronology, we note that alluvial-fan deposition along this tectonically active mountain front corresponds to both wet-to-dry and dry-to-wet climate changes recorded globally and regionally. These findings underscore the influence of climate change on alluvial fan deposition in arid and semi-arid regions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth-Surface Processes