Editor's Summary

9 October 2008

Tibetan plateau survival


Much attention has focused on how and when the Tibetan plateau formed, but far less research has been done on the controls on river incision into the plateau itself. Oliver Korup and David Montgomery address this issue, which also relates to the question of why the Tibetan plateau is still there at all. Despite hosting one of the deepest gorges on Earth, the plateau edge is extremely well defined, and according to widely accepted stream-power theory, should be heavily dissected by one of Asia's most powerful rivers, the Yarlung Tsangp (or Yarlung Zangbo). Korup and Montgomery propose that the southeastern edge of the plateau was preserved in part by the presence of glaciers that were large enough during the Holocene to stall aggressive river downcutting along the plateau margin.

News and ViewsGeomorphology: How Tibet might keep its edge

The stability of the margins of the Himalayan–Tibetan mountain belt constitutes a puzzle. Repeated damming of major Tibetan rivers by glaciers, so controlling river erosion, is a possible explanation.

Lewis A. Owen

doi:10.1038/455748a

LetterTibetan plateau river incision inhibited by glacial stabilization of the Tsangpo gorge

Oliver Korup & David R. Montgomery

doi:10.1038/nature07322