Abstract

Erosion is a key step in the destruction and recycling of the continental crust, yet its primary drivers continue to be debated. The relative balance between climatic and solid Earth forces in determining erosion patterns and rates, and in turn orogenic architecture, is unresolved. The monsoon-dominated frontal Himalaya is a classic example of how surface processes may drive focused denudation and potentially control structural evolution. We investigate whether there is a clear relationship between climate and erosion in the drier Himalayan rain shadow on the periphery of the Tibetan Plateau, where a coupled climate-erosion relationship is less clear. We present a new integrated data set combining bulk petrography, geomorphometric analysis, detrital U-Pb zircon geochronology, and bulk Nd and Sr isotope geochemistry from modern river sediments that provides constraints on spatial patterns of sediment production and transport in the Zanskar River. Zanskar River sands are dominated by Greater Himalayan detritus sourced from the glaciated Stod River catchment, which represents only 13% of the total basin area. Prevalent zircon peaks from Cambrian–Ordovician (440–500 Ma) and Mississippian–Permian (245–380 Ma) units indicate more abundant pre-Himalayan granitoids in the northwest Indian Himalaya than in the central and eastern Himalaya. Erosion from the widely exposed Tethyan Himalaya, however, appears modest. Spatial patterns of erosion do not correlate with highest channel steepness. Our data demonstrate that Zanskar differs from the monsoon-soaked frontal Himalaya and the arid, extremely slow-eroding Tibetan orogenic interior in that focused erosion and sediment production are driven by glaciers. Subsequent remobilization of glacially derived sediments is likely controlled by monsoonal rainfall, and we suggest sediment reworking plays an important role. These data support a strong climatic control on modern orogenic erosion in the Himalayan rain shadow on the periphery of the Tibetan Plateau.

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