Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
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Semi-alluvial stream channels eroded into till and other glacial sediments are common in areas of extensive glacial deposition such as the Great Lakes region and northern interior plains of North America. The mechanics of erosion and erosional weakness of till results in the dominance of fluvial scour and spontaneous fracture at planes of weakness under shearing flow. There have been few controlled tests looking at erosional mechanisms and resistance of till in river channels. We subjected small blocks of till to unidirectional flows in a laboratory flume to measure the threshold shear stress for erosion and observed the erosion mechanics. Critical shear stress for erosion varied from 7 – 8 Pa for samples with initial saturated moisture content in which a combination of fluvial scour and mass cracking/block erosion dominated. When dried, micro-fissures occurred in the sample and erosional resistance of the till was extremely low at < 1 Pa with erosion appearing to be by fluvial scour. When mobile gravel was added to the test conditions, the gravel reduced the erosion threshold slightly because of the enhanced scour around and below the gravel particles and the tendency for the gravel to aid in crack enlargement. Thus a partial or thin gravel cover over the till may provide no protection from erosion. The erosion processes and effects reflect the complex and contingent mechanics and properties of till, and suggest that the erosion characteristics of till bed semi-alluvial channels differ from abrasion or plucking dominated processes in more resistant bedrock.