Central Himalayan rivers record the topographic signature of erosion by glacial lake outburst floods

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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 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 of GLOF erosion in the Nepal Himalaya. 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 so less efficient erosion mechanisms may keep pace with GLOF-driven incision. Where GLOFs are less frequent, valleys are more alluviated and incision stalls. Our results suggest the extent of headwater glaciation may play a central role in erosion of Himalayan river valleys.




Earth Sciences, Geomorphology


floods, Himalayas, glacial lakes


Published: 2021-03-11 16:03

Last Updated: 2021-03-11 16:03


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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