Catastrophic Landslide Deposits in the Karakoram Himalaya

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Science  07 Oct 1988:
Vol. 242, Issue 4875, pp. 64-67
DOI: 10.1126/science.242.4875.64


In July 1986, three catastrophic landslides deposited about 20 x 106 cubic meters of debris on Bualtar Glacier in the Karakoram Himalaya. A sudden acceleration and superficial breakup of the glacier provided an opportunity to examine the fresh deposits in depth. Beneath a surface layer of large boulders, finer materials, mainly sand and silt, made up half of the total volume. The fine materials were formed during the rock avalanche from mostly intact, massive rock of the source zone. Velocity estimates suggest that this disaggregation occurred in less than 2 minutes. Coarse materials remained in bands of uniform lithology, but the fine materials had diffused throughout the landslides. A small amount of carbonate appears to have been calcined by frictional heating, presumably at the base of the initial sliding masses. These observations are relevant to understanding the mechanisms of catastrophic landslides. Other nearby rock avalanche deposits indicate that landslides are an important geomorphic process in the area and that they pose a continuing risk to human activity.