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Quaternary glaciation of the Himalayan–Tibetan orogen

  • Owen, L. A.
  • Caffee, M. W.
  • Finkel, R. C.
  • Seong, Y. B.
Glacial geological evidence from throughout the Himalayan–Tibetan orogen is examined to determine the timing and extent of late Quaternary glaciation in this region and its relation to similar changes on a global scale. The evidence summarised here supports the existence of expanded ice caps and extensive valley glacier systems throughout the region during the late Quaternary. However, it cannot yet be determined whether the timing of the extent of maximum glaciation was synchronous throughout the entire region or whether the response was more varied. The lack of organic material needed for radiocarbon dating has hindered past progress in glacial reconstruction; however, application of optically stimulated luminescence and terrestrial cosmogenic radionuclide methods has recently expanded the number of chronologies throughout the region. Limits to the precision and accuracy available with these methods and, more importantly, geological uncertainty imposed by processes of moraine formation and alteration both conspire to limit the time resolution on which correlations can be made to Milankovitch timescales (several ka). In order to put all studies on a common scale, well-dated sites have been re-evaluated and all the published terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide ages for moraine boulders and glacially eroded surfaces in the Himalayan–Tibetan orogen have been recalculated. Locally detailed studies indicate that there are considerable variations in the extent of glaciation from one region to the next during a glaciation. Glaciers throughout monsoon-influenced Tibet, the Himalaya and the Transhimalaya are likely synchronous both with climate change resulting from oscillations in the South Asian monsoon and with Northern Hemisphere cooling cycles. In contrast, glaciers in Pamir in the far western regions of the Himalayan–Tibet orogen advanced asynchronously relative to the other regions that are monsoon-influenced regions and appear to be mainly in phase with the Northern Hemisphere cooling cycles. Broad patterns of local and regional variability based on equilibrium-line altitudes have yet to be fully assessed, but have the potential to help define changes in climatic gradients over time.
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  • Journal:
    Journal of Quaternary Science, 23 (6-7)
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