The intensity of the Asian summer-monsoon circulation varies over decadal to millennial time scales and is reflected in changes in surface processes, terrestrial environments, and marine sediment records. However, the mechanisms of long-lived (2–5 k.y.) intensified monsoon phases, the related changes in precipitation distribution, and their effect on landscape evolution and sedimentation rates are not yet well understood. The arid high-elevation sectors of the orogen correspond to a climatically sensitive zone that currently receives rain only during abnormal (i.e., strengthened) monsoon seasons. Analogous to present-day rainfall anomalies, enhanced precipitation during an intensified monsoon phase is expected to have penetrated far into these geomorphic threshold regions where hillslopes are close to the angle of failure. We associate landslide triggering during intensified monsoon phases with enhanced precipitation, discharge, and sediment flux leading to an increase in pore-water pressure, lateral scouring of rivers, and oversteepening of hillslopes, eventually resulting in failure of slopes and exceptionally large mass movements. Here we use lacustrine deposits related to spatially and temporally clustered large landslides (>0.5 km3) in the Sutlej Valley region of the northwest Himalaya to calculate sedimentation rates and to infer rainfall patterns during late Pleistocene (29–24 ka) and Holocene (10–4 ka) intensified monsoon phases. Compared to present-day sediment-flux measurements, a fivefold increase in sediment-transport rates recorded by sediments in landslide-dammed lakes characterized these episodes of high climatic variability. These changes thus emphasize the pronounced imprint of millennial-scale climate change on surface processes and landscape evolution.

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