Tributary-junction alluvial fans situated at the intersection of confined valleys with <100 km2 tributary catchments are of special interest to evaluate the heterogeneous consequences of extreme rainfall events in arid zones. These fans record the episodic sedimentological behaviour of the hillslope response to rainstorm events within tributary catchments, together with the influence on the main fluvial systems. In this paper, we benefit from the March 2015 event (23–26 March 2015), which produced 75–46 mm of precipitation over four days in the southern portion of the Atacama Desert. This storm event triggered several debris flows in El Huasco River watershed tributaries and, therefore, tributary-junction alluvial fans received a total of ∼106 m3 of sediments across 49 activated catchments. We find that the characteristic storm signature across the catchments can be synthetised in a conceptual fan formation model based on field mapping of facies (F1 to F6) present in the fans. The characteristic signature is a record of initially high sediment-to-water flows restricted to the fan environments (mainly debris flows) followed by later, more dilute (mainly hyper-concentrated to fluvial) flows that incise the tributary-junction alluvial fan deposits and link tributary catchments with the main river. These later-stage flood event deposits, locally, are capable of ponding and compartmentalising the main river where the longitudinal connectivity of the tributary-junction catchment is effective. This situation improves tributary-junction fan slope and main-trunk-channel linkages. This approach provides a reference framework for understanding the distribution and routing of effective runoff from similar rainfall events that control the aggradation and incision of the fluvial system, which is of great value when studying past stratigraphic arrangements in these arid alleys.



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Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment







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School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences