Abstract

The nature of coarse sediment in rivers emerging from mountain ranges determines rates of downstream fining, the position of the gravel-sand transition, sediment entrainment thresholds, and channel morphologies. Additionally, in the stratigraphic record, clast size distributions and lithologies are used to reconstruct paleo-hydraulic conditions and source area provenance. Using Himalayan rivers, we demonstrate that the signal of first-generation clasts derived from the hinterland of a mountain range can be significantly altered by recycling older, structurally exhumed foreland deposits. The Siwalik foothills of the Himalaya comprise Neogene fluvial sandstones and quartzite-rich conglomerates with well-rounded clasts that were deposited in the Indo-Gangetic foreland basin and later exhumed by erosion, following uplift along the Himalayan mountain front. Mass balance calculations reveal that the Upper Siwalik conglomerate may contribute a significant proportion of the total gravel flux exported from the main Himalayan catchments (up to 100%) despite forming <1% of the catchment geology. Three end-member catchments with variable proportions of gravel flux from Siwalik conglomerates are analyzed to test for the effects of conglomerate recycling. Catchments that recycle the most Upper Siwalik conglomerate form quartzite-rich gravel bars comprising well-rounded pebbles and a narrow grain size distribution, mimicking the characteristics of the Upper Siwalik conglomerate. Conversely, catchments that recycle the least Upper Siwalik conglomerate form gravel bars with a range of Himalayan lithologies, angular quartzite pebbles and a wider grain size distribution. This study highlights that recycling of quartzite-rich conglomerate can dramatically modify the flux, lithology, grain size, and shape of gravel entering the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

You do not currently have access to this article.