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Nature and Dynamics of an Active Block Stream, Kunlun Pass, Qinghai Province, People's Republic of China

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Active block streams are common on the slopes of mountains on the northern, drier portion of the Qinghai-Xizang (Tibetan) Plateau. Between 1990 and 1995, the authors studied a block stream northeast of the crest of the Kunlun Pass at latitude 35°50’N, longitude 94°05’ E. It occurs on a 31° slope facing southwest at 4800 m altitude and consists of a 15 cm layer of blocks moving downslope over a sandy loam of lacustrine origin. The blocks are derived from both frost shattering of exposed bedrock and by ejection of blocks from the till capping the hill. No water flows in the block stream and its surface is level with the surrounding slope. Mean annual air temperature is –6°C and mean annual precipitation is about 320 mm. The few plants growing between the blocks exhibit elongated stems and/or roots, indicating movement of the upper layers of blocks relative to the underlying materials. Average mean annual downslope movement of the surface blocks ranges up to 95 cm but varies both across the block stream and also along its long axis. The blocks are gradually extending further downslope. Comparison of movement of lines painted on stones in summer and winter shows that most of the movement occurs in winter. The stones usually rotate randomly as they move, probably by sliding on ice. There is no obvious sorting or rounding of the blocks during movement downslope. The deposits produced differ from talus/scree sediments as they have a dip of less than the maximum angle of rest of dry sediment (c. 33°) and also show no sorting downslope. The movement of material takes place predominantly in winter, rather than in summer and the deposits occur in areas of negligible snow cover. Ground temperatures suggest exceptionally rapid temperature changes under the blocks, indicating air exchange in the voids. Mean ground temperatures in the loams beneath the blocks are about 7°C colder than in the adjacent soils. Winter snow covers are noticeably absent, and summer precipitation is often in the form of snow, which soon melts. Permafrost is present beneath the block stream but is absent in the sandy loam soils. The ground is also moister beneath the blocks. It appears that the surface blocks tend to slide downslope on the icy surface of the underlying blocks, perhaps aided by water from melting snow. This and the lack of sorting by clast size clearly differentiates them from talus slopes or avalanche deposits.

Keywords: GIS; modelling; overbank deposition; river floodplains; sedimentation rates

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 2: Lanzhou Institute of Glaciology and Geocryology, Academia Sinica, Lanzhou, People's Republic of China

Publication date: 1998-08-01

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