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Relative dating of Quaternary moraines, Rongbuk valley, Mount Everest, Tibet: Implications for an ice sheet on the Tibetan Plateau

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Douglas W. Burbank
Department of Geological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089-0740 USA
Kang Jian Cheng
Department of Geography, University of Lanzhou, Lanzhou, Gansu, People's Republic of China


Relative-dating studies applied to high-altitude moraines (5000–5500 m) in the Rongbuk valley on the northern flank of Mt. Everest reveal strong contrasts in the weathering characteristics of the boulders exposed along moraine crests. These differences serve to define three intervals of major Pleistocene glaciation that, on the basis of the degree of weathering, are interpreted to extend back to at least the penultimate glaciation and probably encompass at least one still older glaciation. Either interpretation indicates that some of these moraines are considerably older than their previously assigned ages. The magnitude of equilibrium-line lowering during Neoglacial and late Pleistocene times is calculated to be ca. 50–100 and 350–450 m, respectively. The data described here are incompatible with the recently proposed model (Kuhle, 1987) for large-scale ice-sheet development on the Tibetan Plateau. The reconstructed equilibrium-line lowering in the Everest region is only 30% of that cited in the ice-sheet model. Moreover, the flow patterns and geometry of the former Rongbuk glaciers are in opposition to those proposed by the model. Based on the data from the Everest region, it appears that valley glaciation, rather than ice-sheet growth, characterized the southern margin of the Tibetan Plateau during the middle and late Pleistocene glaciations.

University of Washington

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