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Journal Article

Downstream propagation of fluvial erosion in Eastern Tibet


Yuan,  X.P.
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Jiao,  R.
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Liu-Zeng,  J.
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Dupont-Nivet,  Guillaume
4.3 Climate Dynamics and Landscape Evolution, 4.0 Geosystems, Departments, GFZ Publication Database, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum;

Wolf,  S.G.
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Shen,  X.
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Yuan, X., Jiao, R., Liu-Zeng, J., Dupont-Nivet, G., Wolf, S., Shen, X. (2023): Downstream propagation of fluvial erosion in Eastern Tibet. - Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 605, 118017.

Cite as: https://gfzpublic.gfz-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_5015716
Fluvial erosion of small mountain belts is widely represented as a wave of upstream migration of knickpoints, starting from a stationary boundary of a high topography created by increased rock uplift rates. However, fluvial erosion remains poorly constrained when orogens expand in width with their boundaries continuously advancing towards the foreland. Here we propose a simple analytical solution for a laterally expanding orogen dominated by fluvial erosion, and apply it to the propagation of Eastern Tibet where the plateau margin is characterized by widespread low-relief surfaces incised by steep river valleys. Our analytical solution is based on the assumption that the topography of Eastern Tibet was built by high uplift rates located in a belt along the plateau margins migrating outwards during plateau growth, as well as carved by erosion of large rivers originating from the interior of the plateau. We validate our analytical solution by comparing it to numerical models and various types of data from five large rivers in Eastern Tibet (Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, Yalong, and Dadu Rivers). The results show that the models with optimized parameter values are generally consistent with the observed river-profile morphologies, exhumation magnitudes, and low-temperature thermochronometric ages. Our results show that the long-term fluvial erosion in Eastern Tibet features mainly a downstream migration of high erosion rates, which is fundamentally different from the headward erosion of most of small mountain rivers. The analytical solutions also predict a characteristic maximum plateau size set by the balance between the horizontal propagating velocity of plateau growth and the bedrock erodibility. The characteristics described by our simple analytical solution may represent a common pattern of outward growing mountains and plateaus in tectonically active regions on Earth.