Landscape disequilibrium on 1000-10,000 year scales Marsyandi River, Nepal, central Himalaya

Beth Pratt-Sitaula, Douglas W. Burbank, Arjun Heimsath, Tank Ojha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


In an actively deforming orogen, maintenance of a topographic steady state requires that hillslope erosion, river incision, and rock uplift rates are balanced over timescales of 105 -107 years. Over shorter times, <105 years, hillslope erosion and bedrock river incision rates fluctuate with changes in climate. On 104-year timescales, the Marsyandi River in the central Nepal Himalaya has oscillated between bedrock incision and valley alluviation in response to changes in monsoon intensity and sediment flux. Stratigraphy and 14C ages of fill terrace deposits reveal a major alluviation, coincident with a monsoonal maximum, ca. 50-35 ky BP. Cosmogenic 10Be and 26Al exposure ages define an alluviation and reincision event ca. 9-6 ky BP, also at a time of strong South Asian monsoons. The terrace deposits that line the Lesser Himalayan channel are largely composed of debris flows which originate in the Greater Himalayan rocks up to 40 km away. The terrace sequences contain many cubic kilometers of sediment, but probably represent only 2-8% of the sediments which flushed through the Marsyandi during the accumulation period. At ∼104-year timescales, maximum bedrock incision rates are ∼7 mm/year in the Greater Himalaya and ∼1.5 mm/year in the Lesser Himalayan Mahabarat Range. We propose a model in which river channel erosion is temporally out-of-phase with hillslope erosion. Increased monsoonal precipitation causes an increase in hillslope-derived sediment that overwhelms the transport capacity of the river. The resulting aggradation protects the bedrock channel from erosion, allowing the river gradient to steepen as rock uplift continues. When the alluvium is later removed and the bedrock channel re-exposed, bedrock incision rates probably accelerate beyond the long-term mean as the river gradient adjusts downward toward a more "equilibrium" profile. Efforts to document dynamic equilibrium in active orogens require quantification of rates over time intervals significantly exceeding the scale of these millennial fluctuations in rate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-241
Number of pages19
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Bedrock incision
  • Cosmogenic dating
  • Fill terrace
  • Landscape evolution
  • Marsyandi River
  • Monsoons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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