Investigation of the relationships between basin morphology, tectonic uplift, and denudation from the study of an active fold belt in the Siwalik Hills, central Nepal


  • J.-E. Hurtrez,

  • F. Lucazeau,

  • J. Lavé,

  • J.-P. Avouac


The present study investigates correlations between an extensive range of geomorphic properties that can be estimated from a digital elevation model and the uplift rate on geological timescales. The analysis focuses on an area in the Siwalik Hills (central Nepal), where lithology and climate can be considered as uniform. This area undergoes rapid tectonic uplift at rates of up to 15 mm yr−1, which are derived from the geometric pattern of a fault-bend model of fold growth. The selected geomorphic properties can be divided in two categories, depending on whether or not the vertical dimension is taken into account. None of the planar properties are significantly correlated to uplift rate, unlike those that include the vertical dimension, such as the mean elevation of basins, hypsometric curve, and hypsometric integral, and relief defined by the amplitude factor of length scaling analysis. Correlation between relief and uplift rate is observed for all length scales of topography shorter than 600 m, which suggests that all orders of the streams are able to adjust to the tectonic signal. Simple mass balance considerations imply that the average elevation is only 10% of surface uplift, suggesting that a dynamic equilibrium has been reached quite rapidly. Using a simple two-process model for erosion, we find that fairly high diffusion coefficients (order of 10 m2 yr−1) and efficient transport of the material by rivers are required. This unusually high value for mass diffusivity at small length scales may be obtained by either a very efficient linear diffusion or by landsliding. Actually, both processes may be active, which appears likely given the nature of the unconsolidated substratum and the favorable climatic conditions. Local relief in the study area may therefore be used to predict either uplift or denudation, but the prediction is calibrated only for that specific climatic and lithologic conditions and cannot be systematically applied to other contexts.