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Journal Articles Nature Year : 2023

Medieval demise of a Himalayan giant summit induced by mega-landslide

Valier Galy


Despite numerous studies on Himalayan erosion, it is not known how the very high Himalayan peaks erode. Although valley floors are efficiently eroded by glaciers, the intensity of periglacial processes, which erode the headwalls extending from glacial cirques to crest lines, seems to decrease sharply with altitude. This contrast suggests that erosion is muted and much lower than regional rock uplift rates for the highest Himalayan peaks, raising questions about their long-term evolution. Here we report geological evidence for a giant rockslide that occurred around 1190 ad in the Annapurna massif (central Nepal), involving a total rock volume of about 23 km$^3$. This event collapsed a palaeo-summit, probably culminating above 8,000 m in altitude. Our data suggest that a mode of high-altitude erosion could be mega-rockslides, leading to the sudden reduction of ridge-crest elevation by several hundred metres and ultimately preventing the disproportionate growth of the Himalayan peaks. This erosion mode, associated with steep slopes and high relief, arises from a greater mechanical strength of the peak substratum, probably because of the presence of permafrost at high altitude. Giant rockslides also have implications for landscape evolution and natural hazards: the massive supply of finely crushed sediments can fill valleys more than 150 km farther downstream and overwhelm the sediment load in Himalayan rivers for a century or more.
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hal-04157846 , version 1 (24-11-2023)


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Jérôme Lavé, Cyrielle Guérin, Pierre Valla, Valery Guillou, Thomas Rigaudier, et al.. Medieval demise of a Himalayan giant summit induced by mega-landslide. Nature, 2023, 619 (7968), pp.94-101. ⟨10.1038/s41586-023-06040-5⟩. ⟨hal-04157846⟩
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