Glacial geology of Bayan Har Shan, northeastern Tibetan Plateau

University dissertation from Stockholm : Institutionen för naturgeografi och kvartärgeologi

Abstract: The paleoglaciology of the Tibetan Plateau is still largely unexplored, despite its importance for regional and global climate reconstructions. In this thesis a comprehensive glacial geological record is presented from an extensive part of the northeastern Tibetan Plateau centred on the Bayan Har Shan. Glacial reconstructions for this region range from restricted mountain glaciers through the intermediate-size regional-scale Huang He ice sheet to a plateau-scale Tibetan ice sheet. To provide a robust basis for glacial reconstructions, this thesis provides conclusions based on two principle methods, remote sensing and field studies. The remote sensing of a 90 m resolution digital elevation model and 15- and 30 m resolution satellite imagery renders a detailed data set with complete spatial coverage of large- and medium-scale glacial landforms, and large-scale plateau geomorphology. Observations from fieldwork campaigns add detailed point information for the distribution of glacial deposits. Geomorphological glacial traces such as glacial valleys, glacial lineations, marginal moraines, meltwater channels, and hummocky terrain occur frequently in elevated mountain areas, indicating former alpine-style glaciations. Glacial deposits in the form of till, erratic boulders, and glaciofluvial sediments are common in areas with mapped glacial landforms, but also beyond, in areas lacking large-scale glacial landforms. For extensive plateau areas in-between formerly glaciated mountain blocks, there is a striking absence of glacial landforms and sediments, indicating that these areas, perhaps, never were ice covered. Interestingly, glacial deposits occur further away from the mountain blocks than the large- and medium-scale glacial landforms, indicating insignificant erosion beneath the maximum ice covers close to their margins.The large-scale geomorphology of the northeastern Tibetan Plateau is characterised by a low-relief plateau surface with glacial valleys in elevated mountain blocks and marginal steep V-shaped valleys. This geographical distribution indicates a dominance of glacial erosion in the elevated mountain areas and a dominance of fluvial erosion along the steep plateau margins, dissecting a relict plateau surface. The outline of the relict plateau surface mimics the proposed outline of the Huang He ice sheet, suggesting that the inferred ice sheet may represent a misinterpreted relict surface with scattered glacial traces.In conclusion, the glacial geology examined in the Bayan Har Shan region is consistent with paleo-glaciers of varying extent restricted to elevated mountain areas. Even though extensive icefields/ice caps were centred on discrete mountain areas, there is no indication that these ice masses merged but rather that they were separated from each other by unglaciated plateau areas. The presented glacial geological record will be used in further studies towards a robust paleoglaciological reconstruction for the northeastern Tibetan Plateau.