Evidence for Holocene megafloods down the Tsangpo River gorge, southeastern Tibet

David R. Montgomery, Bernard Hallet, Liu Yuping, Noah Finnegan, Alison Anders, Alan Gillespie, Harvey M. Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Lacustrine and alluvial terraces and sediments record the extent of at least two Holocene glacially dammed lakes immediately upstream of the Tsangpo River gorge at the eastern syntaxis of the Himalaya. The larger lake covered 2835 km2, with a maximum depth of 680 m and contained an estimated 832 km3 of water; the smaller lake contained an estimated 80 km3 of water. Radiocarbon dating of wood and charcoal yielded conventional radiocarbon ages of 8860 ± 40 and 9870 ± 50 14C yr B.P. for the higher set of lake terraces, and 1220 ± 40 and 1660 ± 40 14C yr B.P. for sediments from the lower terraces. Catastrophic failure of the glacial dams that impounded the lakes would have released outburst floods down the gorge of the Tsangpo River with estimated peak discharges of up to 1 to 5 × 106 m3 s-1. The erosive potential represented by the unit stream power calculated for the head of the gorge during such a catastrophic lake breakout indicates that post-glacial megafloods down the Tsangpo River were likely among the most erosive events in recent Earth history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-207
Number of pages7
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1 2004


  • Himalaya
  • Namche Barwa
  • Outburst floods
  • Paleolakes
  • Tsangpo River

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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    Montgomery, D. R., Hallet, B., Yuping, L., Finnegan, N., Anders, A., Gillespie, A., & Greenberg, H. M. (2004). Evidence for Holocene megafloods down the Tsangpo River gorge, southeastern Tibet. Quaternary Research, 62(2), 201-207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yqres.2004.06.008