A brief history of the Indus River

Peter Dominic Clift

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

60 Citations (Scopus)


The Indus River system is one of the largest rivers on the Asian continent, but unlike the Ganges-Brahmaputra system, the drainage of the Indus is dominated by the western Tibetan Plateau, Karakoram and tectonic units of the Indus Suture Zone, rather than the High Himalaya. The location of the river system relative to the Indus Suture Zone explains the deep exhumation north of that line in the Karakoram, compared with the modest erosion seen further east in Tibet. The modern Indus cuts Paleogene fluvial sedimentary rocks of the Indus Group located along the Indus Suture Zone in Ladakh, northern India. After the final marine incursion within the Indus Group in the early Eocene (<54.6 Ma), palaeo-current indicators changed from a north-south flow to an axial, westward pattern, synchronous with a marked change in sediment provenance involving erosion of South Tibet. The Indus probably was initiated by early Tibetan uplift following the India-Asia collision. The river has remained stationary in the suture since Early Eocene time, cutting down through its earlier deposits as they were deformed by northward folding and thrusting associated with the Zanskar backthrust at c. 20 Ma. The Indus appears to have been located close to its present position within the foreland basin since at least Mid-Miocene time (c. 18 Ma), and to have migrated only c. 100 km east since Early Eocene time. In the Arabian Sea Paleogene fan sedimentation was significant since at least Mid-Eocene time (c. 45 Ma). Sediment flux to the mid fan and shelf increased during Mid-Miocene time (after 16 Ma) and can be correlated with uplift of the Murray Ridge preventing sediment flow into the Gulf of Oman, tectonic uplift and erosion in the Karakoram and western Lhasa Block, and an enhanced monsoon triggered by that same uplift. Sedimentation rates fell during Late Miocene to Recent time. The Indus represents 18% of the total Neogene sediment in the basins that surround Asia, much more than all the basins of Indochina and East Asia combined (c. 11%). Unlike the rivers of East Asia, which have strongly interacted as a result of eastward propagating deformation in that area, the Indus has remained uninterrupted and represents the oldest known river in the Himalayan region.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe tectonic and climatic evolution of the Arabian Sea Region (eds. Clift, P.D.; Droon, K.; Gaedicke, C.; Craig, J.)
Subtitle of host publicationGeological Society of London Special Publications
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherGeological Society of London
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)1-8623-9111-4
Publication statusPublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

In: The tectonic and climatic evolution of the Arabian Sea Region (eds. Clift, P.D.; Droon, K.; Gaedicke, C.; Craig, J.) Geological Society of London Special Publications




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