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Depositional architecture and aggradation rates of sand-rich, supercritical alluvial fans: Control by autogenic processes or high-frequency climatic oscillations?


Lauer,  Tobias
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Winsemann, J., Hartmann, T., Lang, J., Fälber, R., & Lauer, T. (2022). Depositional architecture and aggradation rates of sand-rich, supercritical alluvial fans: Control by autogenic processes or high-frequency climatic oscillations? Sedimentary Geology, 440: 106238. doi:10.1016/j.sedgeo.2022.106238.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000C-19B3-E
Alluvial fans are important paleoclimatic archives, that may record high-frequency climatic oscillations. However, climate signals may be overprinted or even be destroyed by autogenic processes caused by channel avulsion and lobe switching. Here we present new data from two different Late Pleistocene (MIS 3–2) alluvial fan systems in northern Germany and compare these systems to experimental alluvial fans and other field examples. The selected fan systems formed under similar climatic and tectonic conditions, but differ in size, type, and drainage area allowing to estimate the role of climate and autogenic controls on flow processes, facies architecture, and fan-stacking patterns. Luminescence dating is used to determine the timing of fan onset and aggradation. Fan onset occurred in response to climate change at the end of MIS 3 when temperatures decreased and periglacial climate conditions were established in northern central Europe. A related increase in sediment supply and strongly variable precipitation patterns probably promoted fan formation. The major period of fan aggradation was approximately between 33 and 18 ka, followed by fan inactivity, abandonment, and incision during the Lateglacial. The highest aggradation rates occurred during the early stage of fan building, when up to 35 m thick sediment accumulated within a few thousand years. Sand-rich, sheetflood-dominated fans are related to larger, low-gradient fan catchments. Steep depositional fan slopes (5°–17°) and short-lived high-energy floods promoted supercritical flow conditions. Well sorted, sediment-laden, rapidly waning flows favored the deposition and preservation of supercritical bedforms and allowed for the aggradation of stable antidunes. Steep, dip-slope catchments enhanced stream gradients and promoted the transport of coarser sediments. These fans have lower gradient slopes (2–6°) and are dominated by channelized flows, alternating with periods of unconfined sheetfloods. Meter-scale coarsening upward successions, characterized by sandy sheetflood deposits at the base, overlain by multilateral or smaller single-story gravelly channel fills may be related to high-frequency climatic fluctuations or seasonal fluctuations in water and sediment supply. These coarsening-upward successions are commonly bounded by a paleo-active layer, from which ice-wedge casts penetrate downwards. The comparison to experimental fans and other field examples implies that the recurrent pattern of multistory, multilateral and single-story channel bodies with a lateral offset to vertical stacking pattern most probably was controlled by autogenic switch in an avulsion-dominated system. The change in deposition from alluvial-dominated processes to aeolian sedimentation with minor alluvial influences during the Lateglacial records alternation of dry and ephemeral wetter phases that are related to rapid climatic variations. The main phase of aeolian sand-sheet deposition probably correlates with Heinrich event H1 between approximately 18–16 ka and reflects sedimentation in response to aridification and high mean wind speeds.