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The effects of differential uplift and sediment supply on major Himalayan river systems at the mountain front

DINGLE, ELIZABETH (2012) The effects of differential uplift and sediment supply on major Himalayan river systems at the mountain front. Masters thesis, Durham University.

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It is well documented that in tectonically active regions, fluvial morphology responds to changes in base level. Vertical incision rates are adjusted through changes in channel morphology to balance imposed rates of rock uplift. It is common for responses in channel width, slope, grain size distribution and stream power to reflect spatial and temporal changes in rock uplift rates. Channels within tectonically active orogenic belts, such as the Himalayas, may be influenced by changes in discharge or sediment supply in addition to tectonic controls. Identifying the causes of morphological response in such areas is therefore of first order importance to enhance our understanding of landscape evolution. The Nepalese Himalayan foreland presents the ideal location to undertake this investigation, with its distinct tectonic frameworks heavily influenced by the style of foreland basin development. Thin-skinned thrust faulting over the past 1.6 Ma, has facilitated the recycling of foreland basin fill into hanging wall deposits of the frontal thrust (HFT), producing topographic entities now recognised as the Siwalik Hills. Above weak basal decollements, Dun valleys separate the frontal Siwalik Hills, and have rapidly filled with erosional detritus from the rising Himalaya. Poorly consolidated lithologies within the Siwalik Hills and Dun valleys are now being remobilised by modern incision of Himalayan River systems. It is unknown whether patterns of sediment storage and release within the foreland affect river morphology.

To understand the controls behind Himalayan river morphology, longitudinal profiles and channel slope were extracted from 90 m digital elevation models along the Gandak and Kosi Rivers about the Himalayan mountain front. Remotely sensed channel width measurements have also been made, and further supplemented with grain size data derived in the field and analysed using photo sieving techniques. Short-lived increases in channel slope are noted at the Main Boundary Thrust and Main Dun Thrust (MDT) of both rivers, in addition to a decrease in slope upstream of the HFT and Kosi Main Central Thrust (MCT). Increases in channel width upstream of the HFT and MCT (Kosi) are also consistent with morphological response to tectonic uplift. Where characteristic responses in morphology are absent at identified tectonic structures, it is likely that changes in lithology or anthropogenic modification of flow have overwhelmed tectonic influences. No increase in grain size upstream of recognized fault locations was noted on the Gandak, and it is proposed that an alternative mechanism dictates grain size patterns at the mountain front. On passing downstream of the MDT, an absence of direct hill slope inputs and a greater proportion of seasonal tributary inputs is reflected by a narrowing of grain size distributions, loss of Greater Himalayan lithologies, and decrease in D84 (by 50 mm).

These differences between geometry and grain size of the Gandak and Kosi Rivers are interpreted in terms of the style of foreland basin evolution. A lack of foreland accommodation above the strong basal decollement of the Kosi River facilitates continuous exportation of erosional detritus out of the mountain front. Widely spread D84 grain size distributions along the Kosi are dominated by regular inputs of coarse hill slope material from unstable relief produced by exceptional rates of uplift, above closely spaced frontal tectonic structures. It is interpreted that the weak basal decollement characterising the Gandak region has produced more stable hillslopes and accommodation for sediment within the Chitwan Dun. The fine grained and well sorted grain-size distributions of the Gandak noted between the MDT and HFT reflect an absence of direct hill slope inputs and a presence of seasonal tributary derived material. This study concludes that active tectonic structures strongly influence channel geometry at the mountain front. Grain size patterns are believed independent to differential uplift, and are considered a function of lateral sediment inputs, the nature of which reflects the structural evolution and tectonic history of the foreland basin.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Science
Keywords:Himalayas, geomorphology, grain size, foreland basin
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:13 Jun 2012 08:59

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