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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Erosion in the middle Himalaya, Nepal with a case study of the Phewa Valley Ramsay, William James Hope


Data on erosion processes and other aspects of environmental change in the Himalaya are scarce and unreliable, and consequently policy decisions have been taken in a quantitative vacuum. Published estimates of denudation for large catchments in Nepal vary from 0.51 to 5.14 mm/yr, and indicate a dynamic geomorphological environment A review of the literature on erosion in Nepal revealed a consensus that: (1) mass wasting is the dominant hillslope process; (2) activity is seasonal, with virtually all failures occurring during the monsoon; (3) geological factors are the most important determinants of slope stability; (4) sediment delivery to channels is high; (5) little quantitative evidence exists to link landsliding to deforestation. Although few data exist, loss of forest cover does appear to be related to surface erosion and gullying, and a hypothesis linking the expansion of unmanaged, eroding areas to reduced nutrient subsidies from the forest is proposed. A reconnaissance survey of sediment production and transfer mechanisms in the 122 km² Phewa Valley in the Middle Mountains of Nepal identified a variety of mass movement processes. The commonest events were shallow translational failures on slopes of, typically, 36° to 45°, with volumes ≤1 x 10³ m³ and with recovery taking less than ten years. Larger slides occurred on slopes oversteepened by fluvial action. Flows developed in areas of weak rock and unfavourable structure, and were associated with groundwater discharge. Flow velocities accelerated during the monsoon. The highly fractured and deeply weathered zones around faults were the sites of "mass movement catchments", complex failures responsible for approximately 90% of all sediment production by mass wasting in the watershed. A first estimate of surface lowering by mass movement processes in the Phewa Valley is 2-3 mm/yr. Locally, surface erosion on overgrazed pasture may be 5-6 mm/yr. No data were available on soil losses from cultivated areas, and, similarly, losses due to shallow creep, gullying and solution remain unknown. The fluvial transport system in the valley bottom is unable to transport all the material with which it is supplied. Sediment yield to the lake was not calculated owing to insufficient data. Discharge estimates and intensity-duration-frequency analysis of rainfall records indicate that in Pokhara storms of 275 mm/day have a return period of approximately 10 years. The primary controls on mass movement processes in the Middle Himalaya of Nepal are geological and climatic, and therefore are not amenable to modification by man. However, surface erosion is a consequence of poor land management, and therefore can be controlled, given the right institutional environment

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