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Helena Alexandersson

Helena Alexanderson


Helena Alexandersson

Landscape analysis of the Huang He headwaters, NE Tibetan Plateau - Patterns of glacial and fluvial erosion


  • A. P. Stroeven
  • C. Hattestrand
  • J. Heyman
  • J. Harbor
  • Y. X. Li
  • L. P. Zhou
  • M. W. Caffee
  • Helena Alexanderson
  • J. Kleman
  • H. Z. Ma
  • G. N. Liu

Summary, in English

The large-scale geomorphology of the Huang He (Yellow River) headwaters, centered around the Bayan Har Shan (5267 m asl) in the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau, is dominated by an uplifted remnant of a low-refief relict plateau with several mountain ranges. We have performed geomorphological mapping using SRTM topographic data and Landsat 7 ETM+ satellite imagery to evaluate landscape characteristics and patterns, and to investigate the relative importance of different erosional processes in the dissection of this plateau remnant. The distribution of valley morphologies indicates that the eastern and southern margins of the plateau remnant have been extensively dissected by the Huang He and Chang Jiang (Yangtze) rivers and associated tributaries, while the mountain ranges have valley morphologies with U-shaped cross-sections that indicate large impacts from glacial erosion during Quaternary glaciations. An east-west decrease in the abundance of glacial valleys in mountains above 4800 m asl suggests that the diminishing size of the mountain blocks, coupled with increased continentality, resulted in more restricted glaciations to the west. Glacial valleys in mountain blocks on the plateau remnant are wider and deeper than adjacent fluvial valleys. This indicates that, integrated over time, the glacial system has been more effective in eroding the mountains of the relict upland surface than the fluvial system. This erosion relationship is reversed, however, on the plateau margin where dramatic fluvial rejuvenation in valleys that are part of the Huang He and Chang Jiang watersheds has consumed whatever glacial morphology existed. A remarkable correspondence exists between the outline of the relict plateau remnant and the outline that has been proposed for the Huang He Ice Sheet. This coincidence could mean that the Huang He Ice Sheet was larger than originally proposed, but that evidence for this has been consumed by fluvial incision at the plateau margin. Alternatively, this coincidence could indicate that what has been described as an ice sheet border is merely the outline of a relict plateau landscape. In apparent support of the latter, the absence of large-scale glacial geomorphological evidence on the plains of the relict plateau surface is not consistent with the hypothesis of a Huang He Ice Sheet. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Publishing year












Document type

Journal article




  • Geology


  • Tibet
  • Glacial history
  • River incision
  • Huang He Ice Sheet
  • Relict
  • surface




  • ISSN: 0169-555X