Drainage Evolution in Active Mountain Belts: Extrapolation Backwards from Present-Day Himalayan River Patterns

  1. N. D. Smith4 and
  2. J. Rogers5
  1. P. F. Friend1,
  2. N. E. Jones2 and
  3. S. J. Vincent3

Published Online: 17 MAR 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9781444304213.ch22

Fluvial Sedimentology VI

Fluvial Sedimentology VI

How to Cite

Friend, P. F., Jones, N. E. and Vincent, S. J. (1999) Drainage Evolution in Active Mountain Belts: Extrapolation Backwards from Present-Day Himalayan River Patterns, in Fluvial Sedimentology VI (eds N. D. Smith and J. Rogers), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444304213.ch22

Editor Information

  1. 4

    Department of Geosciences, 214 Bessey Hall, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68588-0340, USA

  2. 5

    Cape Town, South Africa

Author Information

  1. 1

    Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EQ, UK

  2. 2

    B.P. Exploration, Dyce, Aberdeen AB21 7PB, UK

  3. 3

    Cambridge Arctic Shelf Programme, University of Cambridge, West Building, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0DJ, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 17 MAR 2009
  2. Published Print: 7 OCT 1999

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780632053544

Online ISBN: 9781444304213



  • drainage evolution in active mountain belts - extrapolation backwards from present-day Himalayan river patterns;
  • tectonic evolution of Himalayas;
  • present-day drainage patterns;
  • evidence for horizontal modification of drainage patterns;
  • evidence from foreland-basin fill;
  • evolution of drainage through time;
  • Subhimalayas and Lower Himalayas


An understanding of how drainage patterns respond to active tectonics can provide insight into past deformational events within mountain belts. The Himalayan arc mountain belt is taken as an example because it is still strongly active. It also is old enough (55 Ma) and of sufficient extent that aspects of ongoing drainage modification in the outer Subhimalayan and Lower Himalayan zones can be compared with those internal parts of the mountain belt where drainage patterns have become fixed by gorge formation.

The drainage patterns of the outer lithotectonic zones have produced 0–8 km of exhumation over the last 15 Ma and provide many examples of deflection and gorge erosion during young episodes of thrusting. In contrast, the drainage systems of the Higher Himalayan zone have been evolving for longer, having produced 8–25 km of exhumation over the 55 Ma since the Himalaya began to rise. Generalized river gradients vary strongly in different parts of the belt corresponding to different amounts of rock uplift and this strongly influences the behaviour of the rivers.