Geomorphic change in high mountains: a western Himalayan perspective
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Globally significant interactions between climate, surface processes, and tectonics have recently been proposed to explain climate change and mountain building. Assessing climate-driven erosion processes and geomorphic change in high-mountain environments, however, is notoriously difficult. In the western Himalaya, the coupling of climate, surface processes, and tectonics results in complex topography that frequently records the polygenetic nature of topographic evolution over the last ∼ 100 ka. Depending upon the erosional history of a particular landscape, temporal overprinting of geomorphic events can produce unique topographic properties which define the spatial complexity of the topography. Field work coupled with analysis of the topography using digital elevation models (DEMs) enable low- and high-frequency spatial patterns and scale-dependent properties of the topography to be detected and associated with geomorphic events caused by climate and tectonic forcing. We conducted spatial analysis of the topography at Nanga Parbat in northern Pakistan to demonstrate the utility of geomorphometry and to characterize dramatic geomorphic change over the past 100 ka. Results indicate rapid river incision, extensive glaciation, and variable denudation rates by mass movement, glaciation, and catastrophic flood flushing. Furthermore, topographic and chronologic evidence indicate that glaciation is strongly controlled by the southwestern monsoon, and that modern fluvial systems are still responding to tectonic forcing and deglaciation. Scale-dependent analysis of the topography revealed that different erosion processes uniquely alter the spatial complexity of the topography, such that the greatest mesoscale relief appears to be caused by glaciation. Collectively, our results indicate that topographic development in the western Himalaya is inherently polygenetic in nature, with glaciation, fluvial and slope processes all playing important roles at different times, and that they can do so sequentially on the same portion of the landscape. Given the rapidity of major changes in climate and glaciation over the last ∼ 100 ka, the landscape cannot be in steady-state. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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