Lag and mixing during sediment transfer across the Tian Shan piedmont caused by climate-driven aggradation–incision cycles

Luca C. Malatesta*, Jean Philippe Avouac, Nathan D. Brown, Sebastian F.M. Breitenbach, Jiawei Pan, Marie Luce Chevalier, Edward Rhodes, Dimitri Saint-Carlier, Wenjing Zhang, Julien Charreau, Jérôme Lavé, Pierre Henri Blard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Transient sediment storage and mixing of deposits of various ages during transport across alluvial piedmonts alter the clastic sedimentary record. We quantify buffering and mixing during cycles of aggradation–incision in the north piedmont of the Eastern Tian Shan. We complement existing chronologic data with 20 new luminescence ages and one cosmogenic radionuclide age of terrace abandonment and alluvial aggradation. Over the last 0.5 Myr, the piedmont deeply incised and aggraded many times per 100 kyr. Aggradation is driven by an increased flux of glacial sediment accumulated in the high range and flushed onto the piedmont by greater water discharge at stadial–interstadial transitions. After this sediment is evacuated from the high range, the reduced input sediment flux results in fluvial incision of the piedmont as fast as 9 cm year−1 and to depths up to 330 m. The timing of incision onset is different in each river and does not directly reflect climate forcing but the necessary time for the evacuation of glacial sediment from the high range. A significant fraction of sediments evacuated from the high range is temporarily stored on the piedmont before a later incision phase delivers it to the basin. Coarse sediments arrive in the basin with a lag of at least 7–14 kyrs between the first evacuation from the mountain and later basinward transport. The modern output flux of coarse sediments from the piedmont contains a significant amount of recycled material that was deposited on the piedmont as early as the Middle Pleistocene. Variations in temperature and moisture delivered by the Westerlies are the likely cause of repeated aggradation–incision cycles in the north piedmont instead of monsoonal precipitation. The arrival of the gravel front into the proximal basin is delayed relative to the fine-grained load and both are separated by a hiatus. This work shows, based on field observations and data, how sedimentary systems respond to climatic perturbations, and how sediment recycling and mixing can ensue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)613-635
Number of pages23
JournalBasin Research
Issue number4
Early online date4 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2018


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