Giant landslides may help explain the evolution of the Himalayas

French scientists believe that a giant rock landslide in one of the highest mountains in the Himalayas during the Middle Ages may have caused the peak to collapse, a sudden high-altitude erosion event that may have lowered the summit height by hundreds of meters. The findings may improve understanding of the evolution of the Himalayas, while showing that such collapse events disproportionately affect downstream drainage systems. The study was recently published in Nature.

The shape and elevation of the summit are constantly changing under the interaction of uplift and erosion caused by tectonic plate movement. The Himalayas are the tallest mountains on Earth and one of the most active. However, despite much previous research on the erosion of the Himalayas, we do not know much about the erosion and evolution of the highest peak of the planet.

Geological evidence from Jerome Lave and colleagues at the University of Lorraine suggests that the Himalayas are located on Annapurna in central Nepal or that there was a giant rock slide around 1190 AD. The rock that collapsed in this event could have reached 23 cubic kilometers, or reduced ridge summit elevation by hundreds of meters and avoided disproportionate growth in the Himalayan summit.

Researchers believe that this giant rock landslide event may have been caused by permafrost present at high altitudes. The landslide may also have affected landscape evolution and natural disasters, as large amounts of fine sediment filled valleys more than 150 kilometers downstream, increasing the amount of sand transported by Himalayan rivers for more than a century.

The findings reveal a potential pattern of evolution of Himalayan peaks and their sudden erosion by large rock landslides. The authors suggest that future studies should assess the impact of erosion from giant rockslides on the long-term topographic evolution of these mountains. (Source: Feng Weiwei, China Science News)

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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