Magnitude and timing of transient incision resulting from large-scale drainage capture, Sutlej River, Northwest Himalaya

Publication Name

Earth Surface Processes and Landforms


Few studies have constrained the magnitudes and timescales associated with large-scale drainage captures (areas >103 km2), even though these constraints are crucial to reconstruct sediment budgets, assess the potential for drainage reorganization to be preserved in the rock record, and determine the extent to which environmental signals (i.e., structures, composition and fossil assemblages within sedimentary rocks that are influenced by sediment supply and transport) are representative of conditions during deposition. In this work, we characterize the Pleistocene capture of the Zhada Basin, an ~23 000 km2 extensional basin in southern Tibet, by the Sutlej River, a prominent tributary to the Indus River. We quantify the magnitudes and timescales of capture-driven erosion using knickpoint celerity modelling, paleotopographic reconstructions, 10Be-derived denudation rates, and topographic analyses of drainage divides. We find that capture has removed 2010 ± 400 km3 of sediment from the Zhada Basin, increasing sediment supply to the Sutlej network by 17%–29% since 735 ± 269 ka. This work represents a crucial step towards reconstructing the Pleistocene sediment budget of the Indus sedimentary system and identifying potential impacts from sediment redistribution. We also identify several plausible tectonic or autogenic mechanisms that may have facilitated capture of the Zhada Basin, including: (1) preferential erosion of weak lithologies along active faults, (2) headward erosion in response to prior capture of the Spiti River and (3) headward erosion generated by breaching of a structural culmination downstream (the Kullu-Rampur Window). This provides a framework to assess the mechanistic links between arc-parallel extension, large-scale drainage capture, landscape evolution and orogenic wedge deformation.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access

Funding Sponsor

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada



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