The imprint of erosion by glacial lake outburst floods in the topography of central Himalayan rivers

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. The published version of this Preprint is available: This is version 3 of this Preprint.


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Maxwell Philip Dahlquist, A. Joshua West 


In steep landscapes, river incision sets the pace of landscape evolution. Transport of coarse sediment controls incision by evacuating material delivered to river channels by landslides. However, large landslide-derived boulders that impede bedrock erosion are immobile even in major runoff-driven floods. Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) mobilize these boulders and drive incision, yet their role in regional-scale erosion is poorly understood, largely because of their rarity. Here, we find a topographic signature consistent with widespread GLOF erosion in the Nepal Himalaya. Our interpretations emerge from the analysis of normalized channel steepness patterns, knickpoint distributions, and valley wideness. In rivers with glaciated headwaters that generate GLOFs, valleys stay narrow and relatively free of sediment, with bedrock often exposed to erosion. In turn, tributaries to these valleys are steep, allowing less efficient erosional regimes to keep pace with GLOF-driven incision. Where GLOFs are less frequent, valleys are more alluviated and incision stalls. Our results suggest that the extent of headwater glaciation may play an important role in the erosion of Himalayan river valleys and deserves more attention in future work.



Earth Sciences, Geomorphology


floods, Himalayas, glacial lakes


Published: 2021-03-11 08:03

Last Updated: 2022-09-18 21:04

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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