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Geomorphology 25 1998.

225248

Quaternary break-out flood sediments in the Peshawar basin of


northern Pakistan
)
Kevin Cornwell
Central Missouri State Uniersity, Warrensburg, MO 64093, USA
Received 16 June 1997; revised 12 January 1998; accepted 8 April 1998

Abstract

The presence of horizontally bedded, fining upward sequences of sands, silts, and clays throughout the Peshawar basin of
northern Pakistan has previously been ascribed to Pleistocene lakes within the basin. Close inspection of these sediments,
however, show sedimentological properties that suggest these stacked sequences are more characteristic of deposits of
periodic break-out flood deposits and not lacustrine deposits. Exposures near the villages of Piran, Nowshera, Jehingira,
Jalala and along the Kabul River show evidence of subaerial exposure mudcracks and bioturbation zones., lateral continuity
and fracture sets. At least three distinct cycles of deposition are apparent in the basin, each exhibiting slightly different
structural and sedimentological properties. The groupings and dimensions of the rhythmite sequences indicate that within
each cycle multiple episodes of flooding occurred. The absence of significant erosional and depositional features, as well as
the preservation of mud rip-up clasts and bioturbation zones further suggests that the periods between episodes of flooding
were probably on the order of 10 1 to 10 2 years. Evidence of ice-dams and lakes in the Indus drainage system is abundant.
Cross-valley moraines and lacustrine deposits that stretch many kilometers upstream are visible in the middle Indus valley
between the villages of Sazin and Shatial and Skardu. Calculated ratios of sediment to water suggest that an upstream
reservoir at least 32 km3 and perhaps as large as 128 km3 would have been required to produce the extent of rhythmites
observed in the Peshawar basin. Generating a reservoir of this size in the Indus drainage system was accomplished near the
villages of SazinShatial where large cross-valley moraines and upstream lacustrine sediments indicate large ice-dams as do
the moraines and lacustrine sediments near Gilgit and Skardu. The origin of the graded sediments in the Peshawar basin,
however, has not been correlated to the failure of a specific ice-dam. The temporal relationship of the graded sediments is
unclear. Limited thermoluminescence TL. analysis of the youngest set of graded sediments referred to as lake beds by
previous investigators. in the Peshawar basin suggest an age of at least 130,000 years BP. This time correlates to the Yunz
stage of glaciation along the middle Indus valley which spans from the mid to late Pleistocene to about 130,000 years BP.
q 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Keywords: break-out flood sediments; Peshawar basin; Pleistocene lakes; lacustrine deposits

1. Introduction shawar basin of northern Pakistan. Originally these


sand, silt and clay beds were thought to be lacustrine
Multiple stacks of thin, horizontally bedded, fin-
sediments that were deposited throughout the basin
ing-upward sediments occur throughout the Pe-
by a late Pleistocene lakes. Allen, 1964; Haneef et
al. 1986.; Hussain et al. 1990.; Said and ul Hasan
)
Corresponding author. E-mail: kjc8930@cmsu2.cmsu.edu oral communication, 1993... Similar conclusions

0169-555Xr98r$ - see front matter q 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 1 6 9 - 5 5 5 X 9 8 . 0 0 0 6 1 - 0
226 K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248

were reached by Nizami 1973., who implied that the rhythmites were deposited, each the result of a
renewed uplift of the AttockCherat range during single flood, then one would expect to see sedimen-
the mid to late Pleistocene repeatedly blocked the tological evidence of this hiatus.
outflow of the Indus River and produced large lakes Over the last 200 hundred years, at least 36
within the Peshawar basin. The lakes were quite catastrophic floods have been documented in the
extensive because lacustrine sediments even occur Indus drainage system. Most of these over 80%.
near Matanni, high up on the southern piedmont. were a result of bursting ice-dams associated with
Detailed inspection of the sediments of the Peshawar alpine glaciers. Frequently, the floods emanated from
basin, however, show features that are more charac- the same glacier system. The dynamics associated
teristic of rhythmically bedded flood sediments with failures of ice-dams usually produce periodicity
called rhythmites hereafter. produced by periodic in the frequency of floods Marcus, 1960; Gilbert,
breaking of ice-dammed lakes than by lacustrine or 1971; Post and Mayo, 1971; Thorarinsson, 1953..
deltaic depositional processes. Modern day fluvial processes and tectonic conditions
These sediments show a general progression from in the Peshawar basin do not pond water back into
thin to massively bedded sands and silts upward to the basin, either a function of much reduced flood
massive andror laminated silts and clays. Stacked sizes or a much more efficient basin drainage. Con-
sequences of fining-upward sediments have been sequently, very limited comparisons between modern
associated with many localities that experienced pe- and older flood sediments are possible.
riodic large-scale flooding. The breakout floods of The physical settings of the rhythmite exposures
late Pleistocene Lake Missoula Baker and Bunker, in the Peshawar basin are discussed herein and evi-
1985; Baker, 1973; Bretz et al., 1956; Bretz, 1929, dence is presented that supports the hypothesis that
1925; Smith, 1993. and Lake Agassiz Smith and these sediments were deposited as a result of peri-
Fisher, 1993. of North America and Himalaya glacial odic catastrophic floods, not lacustrine processes.
floods Hewitt, 1982, 1968, 1964. and other recorded
flood sediments Burbank, 1983. all exhibit similar
sedimentology. 2. Geologic setting
Earlier work on the late Pleistocene Missoula
Flood of North America Bretz, 1929; Bretz et al., The Peshawar basin Fig. 1. rests between the
1956; Baker, 1973; Patton et al., 1979; Carson et al., southern margin of the Himalaya and Hindu Kush
1978; Bjornstadt, 1980. concluded that it was possi- ranges and the northern portions of the Indo-Gangetic
ble that the more than 40 graded sequences occurring foredeep. Migrating tectonic deformation in the re-
at various places along the flood route could have gion has produced intricate sets of north-dipping
been produced by pulsating flood waves from one thrust faults, which in turn have produced large
flood. Others Waitt, 1980, 1985a,b; Rigby, 1982; intermontane basins along the northern foredeep
Atwater, 1984, 1986; Baker and Bunker, 1985. held margin. One of these intermontane basins, the 8300-
the view that each graded sequence represented a km2 Peshawar basin, developed as a result of tec-
single flood. After evaluating slack-water sedimen- tonic uplift of the AttockCherat Range approxi-
tology and the degree of bioturbation within each of mately 2.8 my ago.
the graded sequences, most researchers now hold the The basin began to accumulate sediments at rates
view that one graded sequence generally represents that varied from about 2 cmr1000 yr to 15 cmr1000
one flood. yr during late Pliocene, with accumulations exceed-
As Waitt 1985a. pointed out, the main difference ing 300 m in thickness along the southern margin
between the hypotheses of many rhythmites per flood Burbank and Tahirkheli, 1985.. Most of the sedi-
and the single rhythmite per flood is that the idea of mentation in the basin was accomplished by alluvial
many rhythmites per flood suggest major beds have fans prograding into the basin from the nearby At-
only hours between deposition, whereas with the tockCherat range along the southern margin. The
idea of a single rhythmite per flood decades could lower slopes of the alluvial fans have since been
elapse between subsequent rhythmite deposition. If dissected by erosion to produce piedmont plains.
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248 227

Fig. 1. Map of the Peshawar basin of northern Pakistan adapted from the work of Burbank and Tahirkheli 1985.. The outline of the basin is
relative to an elevation of approximately 610 m 2000 ft.. Exposed rhythmite sections are plotted as hachure-filled areas.

Towards the centre of the basin, the sediments of the basin. Where the prograding alluvial fans
associated with alluvial fans thin and are replaced by appeared to have wandered among the lower-energy
interbedded lacustrine and alluvial sediments, a re- sediments, braided river sediments occur. Burbank
sult of ponding of the inter-basin drainage networks and Tahirkheli 1985. concluded that this pattern of
Kabul, Kalpani and Indus rivers. from a tectonically sedimentation continued into the early Brunhes chron
controlled drainage threshold the Khairabad fault. 0.6 my. when renewed uplift of the AttockCherat
near Attock and possibly near the village of Nizam- range caused folding and exposure of these sedi-
pur Main Boundary Thrust fault. Fig. 2.. The ments. Evidence for lacustrine environments in the
ponding produced low-energy floodplain and flood- Peshawar basin was best observed Khan and Ah-
pond sediments in the southwestern and central part mad, 1987. in surface exposures and quarry pits west
228 K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248

Fig. 2. Tectonic map of the southern part of the Peshawar basin after the work of Yeats and Hussain 1987.. outlining the Main Boundary
Thrust system and the drainage threshold near the village of Attock.

of Jehingira and near Risalpur, and from WAPDA spersed throughout the other sediments near the mar-
1989, 1988, 1985a,b. Water and Power Develop- gins of the basin. The alluvial sediments are overlain
ment Authority. boring logs. The temporal, strati- with rhythmite sediments at diverse locations within
graphic, and lateral continuity of the lakes., how- the basin which are in turn unconformably overlain
ever, is questionable. with loess.
Isolated lacustrine sediments, and more broadly Drainage out of the basin is accomplished primar-
spread alluvium, alluvial fans, loess and rhythmite ily through the Kalpani River system which drains
sequences are of the most recent ) 170,000 years the northern and central parts of the basin. The Indus
BP to about 18,000 years BP Rendell, 1993.. depo- River and Kabul River systems also debauch into the
sition within the basin. The alluvial fans span the basin, join near the town of Attock and flow south
entire time range because they seem to be inter- through the AttockCherat range. Many of the ob-
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248 229

served rhythmite exposures are exposed along em- At several horizons within the Piran, Jehingira
bankments and in terrace deposits of these three river and Jalala exposures, seams of yellowish red 5YR
systems. 4r6. to olive brown 2.5Y 4r4. clay occur Fig. 6..
The clay seams were horizontally continuous within
an exposure but attempts to correlate the clay seams
3. Rhythmite characteristics between different localities were unsuccessful. The
origin of the clay is unclear. The absence of even
Specific exposures of rhythmites were identified weakly defined pedogenic horizons or organic matter
near the villages of Nowshera, Piran, Jehingira, seems to preclude pedogenic development. The clay
within escarpments along the north bank of the seams may represent a local episode of deposition
Kabul River near Nisatta, and near Jalala Figs. 1 from nearby drainage basins in the AttockCherat
and 3.. In general, these deposits consist of horizon- range that dissect the red-colored Murree Formation.
tally stacked beds Fig. 4. of coarse to fine sands and The most commonly occurring phenomena within
silts overlain with laminated silts and clays. The all of the observed rhythmite exposures were the
topographic location of these exposures varies presence of sediment-filled fractures sedimentary
throughout the basin with outcrops along the Kabal dykes of Haneef et al. 1986.. illustrated in Fig. 7.
River Jehingira, Nowshera and Kabul River sites. The fractures were commonly filled with indurated
occurring at an elevation of about 305 m, Kalpani sediments and usually became wider near the top of
Rivers exposures Jalala site. near elevation 380 m the section. Haneef et al. 1986. considered the
and the Piran deposits at about elevation 427 m. fractures to be synror post-depositional features
Sedimentological features such as bioturbation zones, formed because of seismic activity in the area and
thin laminations, sparse mudcracks and rip-up clasts, the subsequent filling up of the fractures and cracks
dropstones and sediment-filled fractures were com- by the flowrwashing in of the more plastic clayey
mon at the various exposures of rhythmites. material.
A typical graded sequence from the Piran section
Fig. 5. exhibits a coarser-grained sediment at the 3.1. Stratigraphy and other features
base of the sequence mean sediment size D50 . of
about 0.058 mm coarse silt. curve A. grading to 3.1.1. Piran
the finest fraction of the sequence curve C with a The 30-m thick section contains at least 31 rhyth-
D50 of about 0.007 fine silt... This general upwardly mic sequences, ranging in thickness from approxi-
fining gradation of sediments was characteristic of mately 25 cm to over 2 m Table 1.. The sands are
all of the rhythmites observed in the five sections. consistently olive to olive gray in color 5Y 4r3
Burrow casts were abundant throughout the sec- 5r3., range from very fine to coarse in size and have
tions and an estimation of the degree of bioturbation sporadic rust staining throughout the exposure. On
was determined for each horizon following the ap- the whole, the sands are massively bedded and are
proach of Droser and Bottjer 1986.. In general, the much more indurated than the finer-grained sedi-
finer-grained sections of the rhythmites showed the ments. This increase in induration is probably caused
more significant levels of bioturbation, with activity by the percolation of calcium-carbonate-enriched
in these units extending above and below into the groundwater through these coarser-grained sedi-
coarser-grained sediment. Bioturbation zones were ments.
distinguished from overlying and underlying hori- The contact within a single sequence is relatively
zons by evidence of increasing activity, characteristic sharp between individual sand seams and the overly-
of periods of depositional stability where ing silts and clays. The silts and clay are predomi-
burrowing-insect activity may have been enhanced nantly olive-gray in color 5Y 4r3, 5r23. and
instead of being quickly buried or washed away. range from 0.1 to 2.4 m in thickness. Typically, the
High levels of bioturbation activity suggested that an sequence exhibits a fining upward sequence with
ample amount of time likely elapsed between deposi- thin laminations present in the top 10 cm. In some
tional cycles. sequences, the thin laminations are rust stained at
230
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248
Fig. 3. General stratigraphy of the exposed rhythmite sections in the Peshawar basin. The horizontal size of individual rhythmite beds is plotted as a function of particle-size
which is graphed along the bottom of each section.
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248 231

Fig. 4. Field exposure of the rhythmites near the village of Piran. The stacked sequences of fine- and coarse-grained sediments gave most
exposures this stairstep morphology.

several horizons within a single sequence. In the least 1 km in distance observed where the Kalpani
upper part of a sequence, the silts and clays are often River has eroded through the section..
massively bedded. Rare pebbles some as large as 10 The coarse-grained seams predominantly fine to
cm in diameter. of igneous and metamorphic origin medium sands with rare silt. are semi-indurated and
occur in the exposure and likely represent small upon weathering produce a stair-step morphology up
dropstones that were ice-rafted during glacial floods. the section with the less resistant silt and clay seams.
The rhythmite exposure at Piran is overlain with a Rare gravel clasts are apparent, and laminations
light yellowish brown 2.5Y 6r4. silty clay loess.. sparsely occur in the upper horizons of the coarse
The upper surface of the loess deposit is horizontal portion of some of the sequences. Pebble-sized clasts,
and is directly overlain with alluvial fan sediments present within the clays and the sands in a few
which consist primarily of clast of Manki Slate places, are likely dropstones.
emanating from the AttockCherat range. The expo-
sures of rhythmites at this site are criss-crossed with 3.1.3. Jehingira
at least 55 fractures. The thickness of the fractures At the Jehingira site, a 10-m thick section occurs
ranged in width from less than 1 cm to more than 25 with more than 14 sequences of light olive gray 5Y
cm. 6r2. fine sand to silty sands interlayered with light
brownish gray 2.5Y 6r2. silts was observed. The
3.1.2. Jalala rhythmite sequence lies unconformably upon lacus-
The exposure near Jalala consists of over 32 trine sediments in the southern area of exposure, just
sequences of rhythmites over a 17-m thick section. north of the Kabul River channel. Nearby exposures
The rhythmite sequences vary between about 15 cm show the flood sediments to be draped over the
to over 1 m in thickness. The rhythmite section rests underlying lacustrine sediments. The contact be-
on an olive brown 2.5Y 4r4. silty clay alluvium tween these two units is very irregular, with as much
with about 10% fine to medium sand and calcium as 6 m difference in elevation.
carbonate nodules. The contact between the two In a distal part of the exposure, two distinct sets
visually distinct units is horizontal and extends at of rhythmite sequences occur. The lower set con-
232 K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248

Fig. 5. Particle-size analysis from one of the graded sequences at the Piran exposure. Curve A represents the lowermost unit and coarsest
fraction of a rhythmite, followed by finer-grained sediment curve B. sampled just above the sharp vertical boundary and curve C, the fine
fraction.

tained at least 15 couplets of rhythmites that dip the same general direction. Faults, approximately 1
approximately 168SW. The upper set contained at m thick and filled with detritus, were observed pene-
least 10 sequences of rhythmites and rested uncon- trating the entire exposure. The faults exhibited visi-
formably upon the lower set at a dip angle of 58 in ble offset of several meters.
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248 233

Fig. 6. These horizontally continuous clay seams were observed at several different elevations within the exposures near Piran, Jehingira and
Jalala. They proved most useful as stratigraphic markers within the local exposure but did not correlate well to other localities.

At all localities where the stratigraphic relation- present. In areas where the topography had not been
ships between the rhythmite sequences and overlying incised by local stream erosion, the loess produced a
sediments were visible, a yellowish-brown loess was landscape of rolling hills. The upper few centimeters

Fig. 7. Sediment-filled fracture in the rhythmites exposed near the village of Piran. Over 55 such fractures were observed in the Piran
section with a predominant trend direction of northwest to southeast.
234
Table 1

K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248


Site descriptions of rhythmite exposures in the Peshawar basin
Characteristics Piran Jalala Jehingira Kabul River Nowshera
exposure elevation masl. ; 427 ; 380 ; 305 ; 305 ; 305
section thickness m. 30 17 10 -8 13
number of graded sequences 31 32 14 20 16
number of bio-cycles 30 22 11 15 9
color of coarse-grained fraction 5Y 4r35r3 5Y 4r2 5Y 6r2 5Y 5r3 5Y 6r3
color of fine-grained fraction 5Y 4r35r23 5Y 4r3 2.5Y 6r2 5Y 5r2 5Y 6r2
bedding characteristic massive massive with thin thin massive
of coarse-grained fraction laminations
bedding characteristic massive with thin with thin and commonly thin and commonly thin and few
of fine-grained fraction laminations laminations laminated laminated laminations
clay seams present yes yes yes no no
dropstone present yes yes none observed none observed none observed
number of fracture sets 55q 138q 63q 9q 5q
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248 235

of the clay beds were commonly laminated and a lacustrine environment and suggested that the en-
exhibited extensive bioturbation. tire Peshawar basin was at one time filled with
water. The repetitive fining upward sequence of
3.1.4. Kabul rier sediments, however, are not consistent with this
An exposure of rhythmites occurs along the north depositional setting. In a clastic lacustrine setting the
bank of the Kabul River in a south-facing piedmont coarser-grained sediments would be generally dis-
escarpment. The overall section is relatively thin tributed in a circular manner around the basin as a
- 8 m. compared to some of the other exposures in function of the available hydraulic energy. The depo-
the area and the overall grain size is finer too. The sitional setting would consist of a shoreline and
gradations suggests perhaps as many as 20 couplets near-shoreline belt of coarser-grained sediments
of rhythmic beds. Bioturbation horizons within the sands and gravelscharacteristic of a high hy-
rhythmites suggest at least 15 cycles of deposition. draulic energy environment., followed by progres-
The coarser-grained sand units are interbedded with sively finer-grained sediments farther out from the
olive gray 5Y 5r2. silty clay and clays. The silty shore fine sands and silts reflecting a decrease in
clays are laminated and streaked with rust in some hydraulic energy. with the deeper central part of the
places and range from less than 3 to approximately lake containing the finest grain sizes silts and clays..
90 cm in thickness. The Kabul River exposure also Each successive vertical horizon observed in the
exhibits criss-crossing fractures, ranging from 1 to rhythmites in the Peshawar basin is consistent hori-
18 cm in thickness that are filled with sands, silts, zontally and grades to finer grain sizes vertically
and clays. Unlike the Piran and Jalala sections, how- within a specific sequence. This condition is contrary
ever, these fractures are not indurated. to a hydraulic energy profile that varies laterally.
Comparing these sediments to lacustrinedeltaic
3.1.5. Nowshera environments produces similar inconsistencies.
The north-facing escarpment along the south side Deltas formed in glacio-lacustrine environments are
of the Kabul is composed of predominantly alluvial- usually areas of rapid sedimentation. Incoming
fan sediments. Along the escarpment and within a streams the Indus River in this case. deposit a large
small tributary basin of the Kabul River just west of sediment body in a relatively low-energy setting,
the town of Nowshera, rhythmite sediments occur. where because of the lack of wave or tide energy,
The rhythmite sequence consists of more than 16 little lateral redistribution of sediments takes place.
couplets of exposed rhythmites in a 13-m thick The lakeward development of the delta takes place
section. The coarse-grained components of the units by overlapping lobes of sediment Reineck and Singh,
consist primarily of a pale olive 5Y 6r3. silt to fine 1980.. The rhythmites in the Peshawar basin show
sand. The seams of silt and sand are relatively thin minimal to no lateral variation across an exposure
ranging from ; 1070 cm thick. Most of the seams and no lobe features are apparent in any of the
are - 20 cm thick. The silts and sands have variable rhythmite exposures. At the Jalala exposure, individ-
amounts of bioturbation and suggest at least nine ual rhythmites can be visually tracked for several
episodes of deposition. Few laminated horizons are kilometers with no significant deviation in thickness
apparent in the section. or stratigraphic position.
The rhythmite sections exhibit various zones of
bioturbation that are distinctly more prominent in the
4. Discussion finer-grained sediments of a graded sequence rather
than in the coarser, and decrease in other places
The rhythmites in the Peshawar basin are charac- along the exposure suggesting that multiple zones of
terized by a repetitive sequence of fining upward bioturbation activity are present. As a general rule,
sediments, often exhibiting bioturbation and mud- abrupt upward transition from bioturbated to non-
cracks between sequences, and containing rare peb- bioturbated zones or from extensively to slightly
ble and cobble dropstones. Early interpretations Al- bioturbated zones define buried landscape surfaces
len, 1964. considered these deposits characteristic of Smith, 1993.. If bioturbation activity is considered
236 K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248

to be a function of a hiatus between depositional overlying rhythmites cycle 2. dip to the northwest at
horizons, then multiple hiatuses are apparent be- approximately 238. This exposure suggests at least
tween many of the graded sequences. two distinct cycles of deposition separated by a
Desiccation features, such as mud cracks and disconformity that included colluvial deposition and
rip-up clasts, occurring rarely in several of the rhyth- structural movement in the interim. Farther north
mite exposures, also suggest a hiatus between depo- along the Pirano valley the cycle 2 rhythmite se-
sitional cycles. Smith 1993. pointed out, however, quences become buried by younger fan sediments
that the absence of these features does not necessar- and colluvium. This condition continues until the
ily mean that no hiatus occurred, because erosion rhythmites are no longer visible in the channel walls.
from flood scouring may have easily removed such Still farther down the valley north, approximately 3
evidence. km., rhythmites cycle 3. begin to crop out along the
upper part of the channel walls stratigraphically
4.1. Cycles of deposition aboe the fan sediments. Full exposures of the cycle
3 rhythmites occur at the Nowshera section in the
At least three distinct depositional periods appear piedmont escarpment along the Kabul River flood-
to have produced rhythmite sequences in the Pe- plain.
shawar basin; each period is separated by an un- Correlating between the various rhythmite cycles
known period of time. These conditions are best at other localities within the basin was not as readily
observed near the Piran and Nowshera exposures accomplished as in the sections at Piran. Incomplete
Fig. 8.. In one small valley near the village of Piran, stratigraphic records, partial exposures, and the ab-
four rhythmite sequences lie directly on Manki Slate sence of consistently distinguishable stratigraphic
bedrock and dip about 108 to the northwest Burbank, marker horizons hindered correlation attempts. The
1983.. These rhythmites cycle 1. are overlain with a seams of dark clay that were sporadically distributed
thin veneer of colluvial clasts of Manki Slate less throughout some of the exposures were used to
than 1 m thick. followed by more rhythmites. The attempt correlation. These seams are present in the

Fig. 8. Cross-section outlining the stratigraphic relationships between the three different cycles of rhythmite activity in the basin. The
cross-section traverses from north near the village of Nowshera. to south near the village of Piran. along the north slope of the
AttockCherat range.
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248 237

thickest, most prominent exposures in the basin Considering the number of graded sequences and
Jalala, Jehingira and Piran. and might be considered zones of bioturbation observed at different sections
as stratigraphic marker horizons, at least between Table 2., it is apparent that during a specific deposi-
cycles, because they were not observed in the oldest tional cycle, multiple episodes of flooding occurred.
1. or youngest cycle 3.. Unfortunately, the relative Cycle 2 sections suggest that at least 36 individual
number of these clay seams in an exposure vary floods impacted the basin. If the frequency of deposi-
across the basin as do the number of rhythmite tion was on the order of decades as suggest by Waitt
sequences that they separate. Consequently, the value 1985a. for the Missoula floods instead of hundreds
as stratigraphic markers within cycle 2 is limited. to thousands of years, this cycle of rhythmites could
Because the Piran and nearby Nowshera exposure have been deposited over a period of time ranging
suggest at least three different episodes of flooding from hundreds to thousands of years. Similar time
and the occurrence of the seams of dark clay are estimates are probable for cycle 3 rhythmites.
prevalent in specific exposures, it is reasonable to The initial stages of flooding in the basin would
conclude that the Piran exposure represents rhyth- have inundated the basin from the northeast where
mite sequences from cycle 1 and cycle 2, Jehingira the Indus debouches into the basin Fig. 9A.. De-
and Jalala represent cycle 2, and the Kabul River and pending on the height of the flood wave, some water
Nowshera exposures represent the youngest se- may have actually flowed south over a 100-m high
quences of rhythmites, cycle 3. topographic threshold and into the southeastern parts
of the basin. As the flooding continued into the main
4.2. How many floods?
part of the basin, spreading water would likely have
Determination of the actual number of floods that flowed generally from east to west across the basin
may have occurred and left rhythmite deposits in the Fig. 9B.. A second topographic threshold may have
basin is difficult. Rhythmite sedimentology varies been breached just south of the Indus River where
within the same deposit because some may consist of the topographic difference between the central part
medium sand overlain with clay and others may be of the basin and this southeastern part is only about
silts overlain with laminated silts, hence the grada- 100 m. The Attock threshold would have restricted
tion from one rhythmite to the next is not always and throttled the flow of water out of the basin,
clear. Erosional processes may have removed part of inducing backflooding and ponding in the basin. The
a sequence, a complete sequence, or several se- force of flow east to west. would continue to push
quences from the depositional record, leaving no flood water west across the north slope of the At-
clear hiatus evident. Perhaps regional seismic events tockCherat range, perhaps filling the basin Fig.
induced turbidity currents in temporarily ponded 9C.. Once the flow of flood water into the basin
flood waters that added sediment layers with similar either diminished or the inflow and outflow reached
characteristics to the record, or perhaps some other some temporary equilibrium, slow discharge out of
event took place. the basin became the dominant process Fig. 9D..

Table 2
Rhythmite characteristics
Locality Number of Number of Maximum Minimum Average Distance from
observed graded observed thickness of a thickness of a thickness of a the Attock
sequences bio-cycles sequence m. sequence m. sequence m. threshold km.
Jehingira 14 11 0.85 0.1 0.56 13.3
Piran 31 30 2.4 0.25 0.95 24.7
Nowshera 16 9 1.1 0.15 0.52 28.5
Kabul River 20 15 1.0 0.125 0.33 47.5
Jalala 32 22 1.1 0.05 0.40 64.6
238 K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248

Rhythmite sequences, on average, are thickest in the flow path of flood water into and out of the basin
the Piran area followed by Jehingira, Nowshera, Fig. 9AD., the coarser and thickest fraction of the
Jalala, and the Kabul sections Fig. 10.. Considering sediment load would then be deposited along the

Fig. 9. Probable route of inundating flood water into the Peshawar basin. Drawing A suggests that the initial flood wave entered the basin
from perhaps two points. The eastern most entrance shown by the dashed line. is a modern day topographic threshold of about 100 m. If
the initial flood wave was higher than this threshold, then at least some of the flood water would have coursed into the eastern part of the
basin. Drawing B illustrates continuous inundation of the basin with flood water and the major flow route thickest black line. following the
Indus floodplain in the basin. As the basin filled C., some of the flood water flowed through the threshold near Attock but the narrow
valley restricted flow and the basin continued to fill with flood water. The major flow route continued down the Indus but, upon restrictions
near Attock, began flowing outward into the basin along the Kabul River valley. Some flow coursed up the Kalpani River. Another 100 m
high topographic threshold was encountered south of the Indus River and if the flood wave was larger, flow over this divide would then
by-pass the Attock threshold and began flowing through the southern part of the basin. As the flow of flood water decreased into the basin
D., the ponded water slowly flowed out of the basin through the Attock threshold which controlled the rate of water flow out of the basin.
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248 239

Fig. 9 continued..

main channel of flow north of the AttockCherat Particle-size analysis Fig. 11. of the coarse frac-
range. The variation in thickness of rhythmite would tions of graded sequences suggests that the overall
likely be a function of proximity to the north slope coarse fractions of the rhythmites are relatively fine-
of the AttockCherat range and the threshold at grained with D50 values indicating a silt size-frac-
Attock. tion. Of some exception, however, are the samples
If the floods that deposited the Nowshera and from the Jalala and Piran sections which show al-
Kabul sections represent the most recent flood activ- most half of the graded sequences to have D50
ity cycle 3., then the thickness of sediments be- values ranging into the fine sand category.
tween these sections is also consistent with the rela- In general, these data summarized in Table 3.
tive proximity to the AttockCherat Range and the show much similarity in the distribution of particle
threshold at Attock. size with most plots consisting of silt and clay size
240 K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248

Fig. 10. Thickness plot of individual rhythmite beds within an exposed sequence and between exposed distal sequences.

particles. Specifically, these plots suggest that either known however, the work of Lord and Kehew 1987.
available sediment size for transportation was limited offers a platform for further thinking. Estimated
unlikely considering the Indus River drainage basin. volumes of sediment and water were calculated us-
or the hydraulic energy available for transport was ing a graded sequence thickness of 1 to 1.5 m, a
consistently low. Considering a basin slowly filling sediment to water ratio range of 10 to 50%, and the
with flood water and the location of these exposures area of the Peshawar basin approximately 8.5)10 3
upgradient many tens of kilometers from the dis- km2 . Table 4.. Using these variables, the volume of
charge channel, the later scenario seems more likely. water necessary for depositing the calculated volume
of sediment in the Peshawar basin range from 21.2 to
4.3. Origin of the flood sediments
287 km3. Within the 20 to 40% range the volume of
In work conducted on glacial-lake outburst de- sediment to water suggests an upstream reservoir of
posits in central North America, Lord and Kehew at least 32 km3 would have been necessary to ac-
1987. determined that the sediment to water ratios count for the rhythmite sediments in the Peshawar
during the late Pleistocene floods averaged about basin. This volume is probably a conservative esti-
20% by weight but reached 40% sediment to water mate because it is unlikely that all flood-transported
concentrations in some areas. They further concluded sediments were deposited within the Peshawar basin
that the sediment transport was extremely efficient during a particular flood event.
and that most of the bed load was transported in The existence of glacial dams along the middle
suspension. Whether these conditions persisted in Indus River valley is well supported by field evi-
northern Pakistan during the late Pleistocene is un- dence. The cross-valley moraines near the villages of
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248 241

Fig. 11. Particle-size plots from the coarse fraction of all graded sequences in the Peshawar basin exposures.

Sazin and Shatial and lacustrine sediments perched 1989; Olson, 1982.. Further upstream, above the
along the walls of the Indus valley represent the Gilgit River confluence with the Indus, a massive
farthest downstream presence of glacial ice in the end moraine Dianyor section. extends completely
Indus valley location A of Fig. 12.. The glacial across the Gilgit valley Fig. 12F.. Immediately up-
valleys that drain the north slope of Nanga Parbat stream from this moraine are thick lacustrine sedi-
Ginne, Patro, Raikot and Buldar Fig. 12BE. have ments perched along the walls of the Gilgit valley.
all left cross-valley morainal deposits along the In- The Skardu basin, approximately 100 km further up
dus and commonly contain thick up to 60 m. sec- the Indus valley, contains a 1.3-km thick sequence of
tions of lacustrine silts and fine sands Shroder et al., glacial, lacustrine, fluvial and alluvial facies. Clearly,
242 K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248

Table 3 sediment thickness suggests that either significant


Summary data of particle-size analysis of coarse-grained fractions sedimentation occurred when the lakes existed or the
of graded sequences
lakes existed for a substantial period of time. In
Median Sorting coefficient D 90
comparison, the 1841 landslide dam near the village
diameter mm. Q1 r Q3 . 0.5
of Lichar along the middle Indus River. that blocked
Jehingira 0.03 1.63 0.065
the Indus River for six months and produced a
Nowshera 0.03 1.94 0.167
Jalala 0.05 1.29 0.339 60-km long lake, left no significant lacustrine de-
Piran 0.05 1.87 0.173 posits draped along the valley walls or on the flood-
Kabul River 0.045 1.29 0.047 plain. The occurrence of lacustrine sediments of
sizable thicknesses and distribution along the Indus
suggest a depositional setting that occurred over a
much longer time.
the Indus has been dammed multiple times in differ- Characteristics of these sediments further suggest
ent locations. that they are not representative of ablation valley
Along the middle Indus valley, lacustrine sedi- processes because they are most uniform in grain-
ments are perched high along the valley walls and size, a trait not generally associated with the dynam-
within floodplain exposures. Drew 1873., Burgisser ics of an ablation valley. This uniform nature was
et al. 1982., Olson 1982., Shroder et al. 1989. and observed in all of the lacustrine sediments in the
Cornwell 1994. have documented lacustrine sedi- middle Indus valley, from Shatial to just east of
ments along much of the middle Indus valley. Sev- Chilas.
eral lacustrine exposures labeled L1L6. were Lacustrine sediments occurring near Gilgit L-6.
mapped and measured Table 5. in the middle Indus exhibited a more diverse grain-size distribution, one
valley during field work in 19921993 Fig. 12.. much more characteristic of a high energy environ-
The silty clay sediments are light gray 5Y 7r1., ment. Considering that at least some influx to the
rarely exhibit ripple marks and cross-beds, and have floodplain was emanating from both the Gilgit and
laminated horizons within the massively bedded out- Hunza drainage systems, a diverse grain-size distri-
crop in several places. Clastic dikes occur as sedi- bution of sediments in this area is likely. Correlation
ment-filled fractures and cracks that cut the deposits. of these Indus valley lacustrine sediments remains to
Thin rust laminations are common throughout the be accomplished; however, the paucity of other
sections. lake-producing processes along this stretch of the
The lacustrine sediments lie many meters above Indus such as large landslides. leave few alterna-
the modern-day floor of the floodplain. The range of tives other than glacial ice.

Table 4
Sediment to water volume estimates
Sediment Sediment to Water Water thickness Area of Peshawar Volume of
thickness m. water ratio %. thickness m. at 2:1 ratio m. basin km2 . water km3 .
1 10 9 22.5 8.5)10 2 191.2
1 20 4 10 8.5)10 2 85
1 30 2.3 5.75 8.5)10 2 48.9
1 40 1.5 3.75 8.5)10 2 32
1 50 1 2.5 8.5)10 2 21.2
1.5 10 13.5 33.75 8.5)10 2 287
1.5 20 6 15 8.5)10 2 127.5
1.5 30 3.5 8.75 8.5)10 2 74.4
1.5 40 2.25 5.625 8.5)10 2 48
1.5 50 1.5 3.75 8.5)10 2 32
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248 243

Fig. 12. Map of the middle Indus valley outlining the location of ice related sediments and glaciers modified from the work of Shroder et
al. 1989...

To create a lake of at least 32 km3 in the middle Darel valley could only extend about 60 km up-
Indus valley near the villages of Sazin and Shatial, stream before glacial ice from Nanga Parbat was
an ice-dam capable of producing a 600 m-deep pool encountered. If this limitation existed, a reservoir of
that extended upstream to Chilas approximately 60 this size would hold about 32 km3 of water, compa-
km. is required. Thick sections of glacial till in the rable to the volume of water albeit the lower end of
Sazin and Shatial area Shroder et al., 1989. indicate estimates. that may have inundated the Peshawar
that an ice mass capable of producing such a dam basin during rhythmite deposition. Glaciers are rarely
once existed there Fig. 12.. If climatic conditions synchronous in movements and advances though and
were suitable to produce such an ice mass in the it is possible that ice conditions in the Darel valley
Darel valley, then similar conditions in the Nanga ice had little relation to Nanga Parbat ice conditions.
Parbat area may have also produced significant val- Another probable source of the Peshawar basin
ley glaciers that would flow across the Indus River. rhythmites emanates from the large at least 600 km2
Under this condition, ice-dammed water from the in area. Skardu intermontane basin. Cronin et al.
244 K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248

Table 5
Lacustrine sediment thickness and elevation dimensions in the middle Indus valley
Lake designation Elevation above floodplain Bottom elevation Top elevation Thickness
m. masl. m. m.
L-1 64 816 858 42
L-2 17 868 893 25
L-3 52 919 963 44
L-4 20 882 930 48
L-5 24 1023 1070 47
L-6 y18 1240 1258 18 q

1989. measured 300 m of clayey siltstone to silty basin to allow for an accurate temporal fix on the
claystone in the Bunthang sequence and interpreted ages of the rhythmites. In earlier work, Burbank and
the sediments to have been deposited in a glacio- Tahirkheli 1985. concluded that intermontane-basin
lacustrine environment. He postulated that the onset sediments began to accumulate in the Peshawar basin
of lacustrine sedimentation was likely gradual and about 2.8 my ago over the folded and faulted Murree
eventually became dominant as the basin was fully Formation of Miocene age. Rates of accumulation
ponded. Filling the entire Skardu intermontane basin varied between 2 cmr1000 yr to about 15 cmr1000
with water about 50 m deep would produce a reser- yr over this time. Most sedimentation was accom-
voir of about 32 km3 whereas filling to a depth of plished by alluvial fans prograding into the basin
200 m would generate a 128-km3 body of water. from the nearby AttockCherat range along the
Both depths 50 to 200 m. are small in comparison southern margin. The lower slopes of the alluvial
to the relative size of the intermontane basin and the fans have been dissected by erosion to produce
nature of the dynamics in the Himalaya ranges. piedmont plains, relatively young geomorphic fea-
Lacustrine sediments upstream from the Dianyor tures in the Peshawar basin. Interspersed within these
moraine that occur along the Gilgit River valley basin sediments are two distinct volcanic ash de-
were observed and documented by Owen 1988.. He posits which likely originated from the Dasht-e-
suggested that glacial ice, emanating from the Hunza Nawar volcanic complex in east-central Afghanistan.
drainage system, dammed the Gilgit River during The oldest ash dates to approximately 2.4 my ago
late Pleistocene and produced a large lake upstream and the younger ash to approximately 1.6 my ago
from the confluence of the two rivers. The relatively Burbank, 1982.. The presence of these ashes in the
thick lacustrine exposure upstream from Gilgit was Plio-Pleistocene sediments offers a measure of time
deposited from this event Fig. 12.. control for the early to mid-Pleistocene. Burbank and
No direct evidence was found that proved any of Tahirkheli 1985. concluded that this pattern of sedi-
these three locations produced the floods that left mentation continued into the early Brunhes chron
rhythmite sediments in the Peshawar basin. The shear 0.6 my..
volume of water required in an upstream ice-dam, Lacustrine sediments, alluvium, alluvial fans, loess
however, precludes many of the smaller alpine glacial and rhythmites are the most recent deposits within
systems that presently operate in the Himalaya ranges the basin mid to late Bruhnes?.. The alluvial fans
and drain to the Indus River. During glacial maxima, appear to span the entire time range because they are
most of the alpine glaciers would have likely filled present throughout the stratigraphy of basin sedi-
the valleys with ice and extended the reach far ments. The rhythmites rest unconformably on allu-
downstream to the Indus. vial sediments throughout the basin and are uncon-
formably overlain with loess at disparate locations.
4.4. Relatie ages
Thermoluminescence TL. dating of the loess in
No volcanic ash, pollen, or fossils have been the basin and adjacent areas has been undertaken by
found in the rhythmites exposed in the Peshawar Rendell 1989, 1993., Rendell and Dennell 1987.
K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248 245

and Rendell and Townsend 1988.. Rendell 1993. the furthest extent of Pleistocene ice along the mid-
has suggested that the loess was deposited through- dle Indus. Shroder et al. 1989. also observed evi-
out northern Pakistan as a series of depositional dence of catastrophic flooding probably associated
pulses with the most recent phase of loess deposition with temporary ice-dam breakout floods. abundant in
occurring between 75,000 and 18,000 years BP. these glacial sediments as deep scouring and
Based on the location of sampling points and per- megaripple features. Younger late Pleistocene.
sonal communication Rendell, personal communica- cross-valley moraines from the Darel valley Shroder
tion, 1993., this loess overlies the rhythmite sedi- et al., 1989. were also apparent and likely produced
ments near the Jalala and Jehingira sections in the significant ice-dams across the main trunk of the
Peshawar basin. A much earlier phase of loess depo- Indus valley as evidenced by lacustrine sediments
sition, dating to ) 170,000 years BP, is also evident perched upstream on the Indus valley walls. The
in the area. Several samples, collected from lake overall timing of Yunz stage events is generally
beds near Nowshera, have been subsequently identi- consistent with the TL dates obtained by Rendell
fied as rhythmite sediments Rendell, personal com- 1993. from the stratigraphically youngest rhyth-
munication, 1993.. These sediments yielded an age mites in the Peshawar Basin.
) 130,000 TL years BP and suggested that at least Shroder et al. 1989. considered the trunk valley
the youngest cycle of rhythmites preserved in the ice Borit Jheel. of the late Pleistocene to have
Peshawar basin are older than 130,000 years BP. terminated in the massive Dianyor moraine near the
Timing correlation of rhythmite activity in the confluence of the Gilgit and Hunza rivers. They
Peshawar basin to glacial activity in the Indus sys- further noted that many tributary valleys generated
tem is incomplete. The most recent glacial chronol- cross-valley glaciers that may have also produced
ogy outlined for the middle Indus valley is best ice-dams. The Jaglot moraine from Sai Nala, the Gor
outlined in the work of Shroder et al. 1993. who moraine from the Raikot and Buldar glaciers,
concluded that three primary glacial stages, the moraines at Ames Geh from Patro ice, the Ginne
Shanoz earliest at early Pleistocene., the Yunz mid moraine near Chilas, and the Darel moraine near
to late Pleistocene but no younger than about 130,000 Shatial all cross the Indus River and may have
years ago ka. based on TL dated lacustrine silts in produced ice-dams. Shroder et al. 1989. estimated
the Hunza valley., and the Borit Jheel late Pleis- the ice thickness from the DarelShatial ice mass
toceneno older than about 65 ka based on TL may have been greater than 750 m above the modern
dated lacustrine silts from the Hunza valley. are day floor of the Indus valley. Extensive lacustrine
present in the Indus valley. Many of these early TL beds upstream from the DarelShatial moraines at-
dates are suspect because of more recent advances in test to the presence of temporary lacustrine condi-
the understanding of background radiation and in- tions. TL dates, as reported in Shroder et al. 1989.,
complete solar bleaching processes Shroder et al., suggest an age of 38,100 " 2600 years. Alpha-1944.
1989.. Until newer TL dates are produced, however, for these lacustrine sediments, too young to correlate
current information is accepted. with the TL dates obtained by Rendell 1993. for the
Shroder et al. 1993. further considered the Yunz stratigraphically youngest rhythmites in the Pe-
and Borit Jheel stages to represent large valley shawar Basin.
glaciers which would have sent extensive ice down
into the Indus valley, perhaps as far west as the
village of Sazin where large cross-valley recessional 5. Conclusions
moraines are evident today. Derbyshire et al. 1984.
located evidence in the Hunza valley of a much The thin, horizontally bedded, fining upward sedi-
smaller fourth glacial stage, Ghulkin I, which is late ments that occur throughout the Peshawar basin of
Pleistocene in age younger than 47 ka based on TL northern Pakistan were deposited as a result of nu-
dates from lacustrine silts in the Hunza valley.. merous periodic floods emanating from the Indus
A prominent, well-indurated till, likely of Yunz River drainage system. Deposition of these sedi-
stage, occurs near the village of Shatial and marks ments occurred as floodwater temporarily ponded
246 K. Cornwellr Geomorphology 25 (1998) 225248

upstream of a tectonically controlled threshold, either km3 would be required to deposit the graded sedi-
near the village of Attock, or further south near the ments observed in the Peshawar basin. These vol-
village of Nizampur. The basin slowly filled with umes are consistent with ice-dam and lacustrine evi-
flood waters and sedimentation of the graded se- dence in the Indus valley.
quences resulted from deposition of the sand-, silt-, The relative ages of these rhythmite sediments,
and clay-size load. Particle-size plots indicate that in however, remain unclear. The absence of dated ma-
most cases the sediment load consisted of silt- and terial in the exposures of the Peshawar basin ob-
clay-size particles, supporting a relatively low energy structs a temporal fix on the ages of these sediments.
depositional condition as flood water slowly filled Limited TL dates, both up the Indus valley and on
then drained from the basin. Stacked sequences of one set of rhythmites in the Peshawar basin, would
these graded sediments have produced the exposures suggest a Yunz age mid to late Pleistocene to about
visible in the Peshawar basin. The disparate locations 139,000 years BP..
at which these sediments occur throughout the basin
suggest that the flood water may have completely
inundated the Peshawar basin at times.
Acknowledgements
The characteristics of these sediments further sug-
gest that the processes responsible for deposition
were somewhat periodic, with time breaks between Special logistical and field support is appreciated
the deposition of individual graded sequences. This from my colleagues at the National Centre of Excel-
scenario is supported by the lateral continuity of lence, Geology at the University of Peshawar. Finan-
these sediments in an exposure sometimes over a cial and cultural support was provided in part by the
distance of several kilometers., repetitive layers of United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan
bioturbation activity within an exposure, and rare and the Geological Society of America. Special
dropstones presumably from ice rafts emanating thanks are extended to John F. Shroder, Jr., Syed
from the burst ice-dam.. Hamidullah, and Javed Khan for insightful discus-
The stacked nature of these sediments is consis- sions and manuscript review.
tent with the periodic filling and breaking of an
upstream ice-dams.. The intervals of time between
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