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Repeated catastrophic valley infill following medieval earthquakes in the Nepal Himalaya

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Science  08 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6269, pp. 147-150
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac9865

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Nepal's quake-driven landslide hazards

Large earthquakes can trigger dangerous landslides across a wide geographic region. The 2015 Mw 7.8 Gorhka earthquake near Kathmandu, Nepal, was no exception. Kargal et al. used remote observations to compile a massive catalog of triggered debris flows. The satellite-based observations came from a rapid response team assisting the disaster relief effort. Schwanghart et al. show that Kathmandu escaped the historically catastrophic landslides associated with earthquakes in 1100, 1255, and 1344 C.E. near Nepal's second largest city, Pokhara. These two studies underscore the importance of determining slope stability in mountainous, earthquake-prone regions.

Science, this issue p. 10.1126/science.aac8353; see also p. 147

Abstract

Geomorphic footprints of past large Himalayan earthquakes are elusive, although they are urgently needed for gauging and predicting recovery times of seismically perturbed mountain landscapes. We present evidence of catastrophic valley infill following at least three medieval earthquakes in the Nepal Himalaya. Radiocarbon dates from peat beds, plant macrofossils, and humic silts in fine-grained tributary sediments near Pokhara, Nepal’s second-largest city, match the timing of nearby M > 8 earthquakes in ~1100, 1255, and 1344 C.E. The upstream dip of tributary valley fills and x-ray fluorescence spectrometry of their provenance rule out local sources. Instead, geomorphic and sedimentary evidence is consistent with catastrophic fluvial aggradation and debris flows that had plugged several tributaries with tens of meters of calcareous sediment from a Higher Himalayan source >60 kilometers away.

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