Sediment provenance, reworking and transport processes in the Indus River by U-Pb dating of detrital zircon grains

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We present new major and trace element data, together with U-Pb ages for zircon sand grains from the major tributaries of the Indus River, as well as the adjacent Ghaggar and Yamuna Rivers and from bedrocks within the Sutlej Valley, in order to constrain the origin of the sediment reaching the Arabian Sea. Zircon grains from the upper Indus are generally younger than 200. Ma and contrast with those from the eastern tributaries eroded from Himalayan sources. Grains younger than 15. Ma, which typify the Nanga Parbat Massif, comprise no more than 1-2% of the total, even in the upper Indus, showing that this terrain is not a major sediment producer, in contrast with the Namche Barwe Massif in the eastern Himalayan syntaxis. The Sutlej and Yamuna Rivers in particular are very rich in Lesser Himalayan-derived 1500-2300. Ma zircons, while the Chenab is dominated by 750-1250. Ma zircons, mostly eroded from the Greater Himalaya. The upper Indus, Chenab and Ravi yield zircon populations broadly consistent with the outcrop areas, but the Jhelum and the Sutlej contain many more 1500-2300. Ma zircons than would be predicted from the area of Lesser Himalayan rock within their drainages. A significant population of grains younger than 200. Ma in the sands of the Thar Desert indicates preferential eolian, monsoon-related transport from the Indus lower reaches, rather than reworking from the local rivers. Modelling of observed zircon ages close to the delta contrasts with modern water discharge. The delta is rich in zircons dating 1500-2300. Ma, while discharge from modern rivers carrying such grains is low. The modest size of the Sutlej, the richest source of these materials in the modern system, raises the possibility that the compositionally similar Yamuna used to flow westwards in the recent past. Our data indicate a non-steady state river with zircon transport times of 5-10. k.y. inferred from earlier zircon dating of delta sands. The modern delta zircons image an earlier, likely Early-Mid Holocene, erosional state, in which the Lesser Himalaya were more important as sediment suppliers. Early-Mid Holocene sands show much less erosion from the Karakoram-Transhimalaya compared to those deposited at the Last Glacial Maximum, or calculated from the modern discharge. We favour variations in summer monsoon intensity as the primary cause of these temporal changes. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.

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Global and Planetary Change

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