Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Quantifying landslide frequency and sediment residence time in the Nepal Himalaya

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Science Advances  24 Apr 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 4, eaav3482
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav3482


Quantifying how Earth surface processes interact with climate, tectonics, and biota has proven challenging, in part due to the stochastic nature of erosion and sedimentation. Landsliding is a common stochastic erosional process that may account for >50% of the sediment produced in steep mountainous landscapes. Here, we calculate the effects of landsliding and the residence time of sediment in a steep drainage basin in the Nepal Himalaya using a numerical model of landslide erosion combined with published cooling age distributions from two river sediment samples collected several years apart. We find that the difference in the two samples can be explained by landsliding and that the age distributions suggest that the residence time of sediment in the catchment is no greater than 50 years. This sensitivity to landsliding thus offers potential to improve our understanding of stochastic erosional processes, and further suggests that sediment is rapidly evacuated from steep mountainous drainage basins.

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