Testing monsoonal controls on bedrock river incision in the Himalaya and Eastern Tibet with a stochastic-threshold stream power model

Dirk Scherler, Roman A. DiBiase, G. Burch Fisher, Jean Philippe Avouac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


10Be-derived catchment average erosion rates from the Himalaya and Eastern Tibet show different relationships with normalized channel steepness index (ksn), suggesting differences in erosional efficiency of bedrock river incision. We used a threshold stream power model (SPM) combined with a stochastic distribution of discharges to explore the extent to which this observation can be explained by differences in the mean and variability of discharge between the two regions. Based on the analysis of 199 daily discharge records (record lengths 3–45 years; average 18.5 years), we parameterized monsoonal discharge with a weighted sum of two inverse gamma distributions. During both high- and low-flow conditions, annual and interannual discharge variabilities are similarly low in each region. Channel widths for 36 rivers indicate, on average, 25% wider streams in Eastern Tibet than in the Himalaya. Because most catchments with 10Be data are not gauged, we constrained mean annual discharge in these catchments using gridded precipitation data sets that we calibrated to the available discharge records. Comparing 10Be-derived with modeled erosion rates, the stochastic-threshold SPM explains regional differences better than a simple SPM based on drainage area or mean annual runoff. Systematic differences at small ksn values can be reconciled with ksn-dependent erosion thresholds, whereas substantial scatter for high ksn values persists, likely due to methodological limitations. Sensitivity analysis of the stochastic-threshold SPM calibrated to the Himalaya indicates that changes in the duration or strength of summer monsoon precipitation have the largest effect on erosional efficiency, while changes in monsoonal discharge variability have almost no effect. The modeling approach presented in this study can in principle be used to assess the impact of precipitation changes on erosion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1389-1429
Number of pages41
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Jul 2017


  • climate change
  • cosmogenic nuclides
  • discharge variability
  • Himalaya
  • river incision
  • stream power


Dive into the research topics of 'Testing monsoonal controls on bedrock river incision in the Himalaya and Eastern Tibet with a stochastic-threshold stream power model'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this