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Changes of bedload characteristics along the Marsyandi River (central Nepal): Implications for understanding hillslope sediment supply, sediment load evolution along fluvial networks, and denudation in active orogenic belts

By
Mikaël Attal
Mikaël Attal
Laboratoire de Géodynamique des Chaînes Alpines, Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, France
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Jérôme Lavé
Jérôme Lavé
Laboratoire de Géodynamique des Chaînes Alpines, Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, France
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Published:
January 01, 2006

Understanding and quantifying fluvial transport and bedrock abrasion processes have become major concerns in modeling landform response to tectonic and climatic forcing. Recent theoretical and experimental investigations have in particular stressed the importance of sediment supply and size in controlling bedrock incision rate. Many studies on the downstream evolution of pebble size have focused on unraveling the respective roles of selective sorting and abrasion, without paying much attention to sediment sources. In order to track sediment supply and characteristics from source to sink in an active tectonic setting, where long-term selective deposition can be excluded, we systematically measured sediment size and lithology on gravel bars along the Marsyandi River and its tributaries (Himalayas of central Nepal), and also in sediment source material from hillslopes (landslides, moraines, terrace deposits). The downstream evolution in lithological distribution is found to be in close agreement with common views on pebble abrasion and present views on denudation in the range: (1) pebbles from the more rapidly uplifted and eroded Higher Himalayan gneissic units are over-represented, due to their major contribution to sediment influx, (2) easily erodible lithologies such as schists, sandstones, and limestone are under-represented relative to resistant rock types like quartzite. More surprisingly, we observe a general downstream coarsening of gravel bar material along the middle and lower Marsyandi River, whereas downstream sediment fining is typical of most river systems. A simple integrative model that tracks pebbles from hillslope to the main stem of the river and includes abrasion coefficients for the different Himalayan lithologies and size distribution of hillslopes sediment supplies accounts for both changing lithologic proportion along the Marsyandi and for the downstream coarsening of gravel bar material. This coarsening mainly results from differences in sediment sources along the Marsyandi Valley, in particular from differences in size distributions of landslide and moraine material. However, the median pebble size of subsurface material in gravel bars is coarser than median size of the blocky material in the source. The choice of the measurement methods and their potential bias are discussed but cannot explain this surprising feature displayed by our measurements. We suspect that due to sediment transport modalities in active tectonic settings, the subpavement grain-size distribution on gravel bars is not representative of the average bed-load size distribution. Consequently, pebble abrasion is more easily demonstrated by description of pebble lithology than by the downstream evolution of pebble size. Our study also shows, in contrast with previous studies, that experimentally derived abrasion coefficients can account for the downstream evolution of pebbles without calling for additional fining processes. We conclude that the eroded lithology and hillslope sediment source exert a major influence on the downstream evolution of sediment characteristics, on bedload ratio, and probably on bedrock erosion efficiency. These conclusions have important implications in terms of river profile evolution, landscape denudation, internal erosion coupling, and the response of the fluvial network to glacial-interglacial fluctuations.

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GSA Special Papers

Tectonics, Climate, and Landscape Evolution

Sean D. Willett
Sean D. Willett
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Niels Hovius
Niels Hovius
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Mark T. Brandon
Mark T. Brandon
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Donald M. Fisher
Donald M. Fisher
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Geological Society of America
Volume
398
ISBN print:
9780813723983
Publication date:
January 01, 2006

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