Lewis, D., Scott, K. and Tucker, D., 2007, Debris avalanches in Rainbow Creek at Mount Baker, Washington- dating and matrix analysis: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 39, n. 4, p. 66.

Debris avalanches in Rainbow Creek at Mount Baker, Washington- dating and matrix analysis

Mount Baker, one of the youngest stratovolcanoes in the Cascade Range, lies 50 km east of Bellingham, WA. The modern cone began its formation ca. 50,000 years ago on the terranes of several older eruptive centers, one of which erupted the lava that now forms Lava Divide on the east flank of Mount Baker ca. 300,000 years ago. The Mount Baker complex has a long history of slope failures from its flanks. In the late 19th century, approximately 15-20 million m3 of andesitic lava and poorly consolidated lava-flow breccia fell from the north side of Lava Divide into the valley of Rainbow Creek, running 140 m up the opposite valley wall. The deposit, known as the Rainbow Creek debris avalanche, extends 10.5 km through Avalanche Gorge to the confluence of Rainbow and Swift Creeks. Our research focused on two main questions: 1) Why was the debris avalanche so mobile, flowing much farther than a normal alpine debris avalanche? 2) Was there more than one event and what are the date(s)? To answer the first question, we collected matrix samples of the flow at 11 longitudinally dispersed sites and analyzed the sand, silt, and clay content. Additionally, we analyzed outcrop photos to determine the proportion of matrix and the distribution of coarse clasts up to boulder size. We infer that the mobility of the avalanche is due to a high percentage of fine material (8-21% silt and clay) that lubricated the flow. There are two sources of fine particles: material cataclastically disaggregated during the fall from Lava Divide, and clay-rich glacial till (from the Cordilleran Ice Sheet) entrained from the valley floor. To answer the second question, vegetation patterns in a ca.1930-1935 aerial photo suggest a subsequent, smaller avalanche. This has been mapped by Fuller (1980). Dendrochronology, field observations, and the accounts of J. Morovits, a pioneer geologist in the area from 1891-1918, suggest that the main avalanche occurred in 1890-1891. The second avalanche extended from the same source area to a point 4.7 km downstream. A large tree cored within this second flow gave a date of 67 years in 2006. Based on Morovits' departure in 1917 (we believe he would have recorded this event), as well as the tree core, we estimate the date of the second flow as occurring between 1917 (Joe Morovits' departure) and 1932. This date takes into account a 7-year ececis period.