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Seasonal precipitation gradients and their impact on fluvial sediment flux in the Northwest Himalaya

Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2009.12.003
  • Precipitation
  • Erosion
  • Himalaya
  • Indian Summer Monsoon
  • Winter Westerlies
  • Suspended Sediment


Abstract Precipitation in the form of rain and snowfall throughout the Himalaya controls river discharge and erosional processes and, thus, has a first-order control on the fluvial sediment flux. Here, we analyze daily precipitation data (1998–2007) of 80 weather stations from the northwestern Himalaya in order to decipher temporal and spatial moisture gradients. In addition, suspended sediment data allow assessment of the impact of precipitation on the fluvial sediment flux for a 10 3-km 2 catchment (Baspa). We find that weather stations located at the mountain front receive ∼ 80% of annual precipitation during summer (May–Oct), whereas stations in the orogenic interior, i.e., leeward of the orographic barrier, receive ∼ 60% of annual precipitation during winter (Nov–Apr). In both regions 4–6 rainstorm days account for ∼ 40% of the summer budgets, while rainstorm magnitude–frequency relations, derived from 40-year precipitation time-series, indicate a higher storm variability in the interior than in the frontal region. This high variability in maximum annual rainstorm days in the orogenic interior is reflected by a high variability in extreme suspended sediment events in the Baspa Valley, which strongly affect annual erosion yields. The two most prominent 5-day-long erosional events account for 50% of the total 5-year suspended sediment flux and coincide with synoptic-scale monsoonal rainstorms. This emphasizes the erosional impact of the Indian Summer Monsoon as the main driving force for erosion processes in the orogenic interior, despite more precipitation falling during the winter season.

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