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Channel evolution of the Himalayan tributaries in northern Brahmaputra plain in recent centuries


Himalayan tributaries of the northern Brahmaputra plain are vulnerable to rapid channel shift and planform adjustment. Yet, the information and knowledge of their morphological changes are sparse. This paper uses multiple geo-informational data such as archival maps, aerial and satellite imaginaries, field mapping and interviews with the locals, and previous literature to document the channel evolution of the tributaries in recent centuries, which can be an essential input to understand the contemporary adjustments of the Himalayan rivers. We infer that several tributaries along the northern plain of Brahmaputra have gone through major avulsions. Fingerprints of those avulsions, identified from archival maps and satellite imageries, suggest that the tributaries had a hop of an average distance of ~ 5.5 km. However, those migrations did not follow any geometric scale and select their path randomly. Paleochannel fingerprints indicate that the rivers once meandering have transformed into straight, braided and anastomosing channels. Intriguingly, the majority of the tributaries have widened by ~ 2.5–5 times compared to their parent courses. Evidence suggests that several river migrations are driven by surface warps, most likely, induced by seismic activities. Large rupture in the hilly catchments of Jiadhal (and its eastern tributaries) and associated sedimentation due to 1950 Assam earthquake have affected their channel morphologies. It suggests the potential role of the high sedimentation in the channel evolution of the tributaries. Consistency in the planform changes of the tributaries affirms that the northern plain of Brahmaputra is going through a spell of intensified sedimentation in recent times. The Brahmaputra is a young basin where ample surface signatures are available to link up the process–response mechanism of its tributaries. An extensive study should be a future priority to examine the nature of the tributaries more closely.

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The first author is an awardee of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) research associateship [HRDG(CSIR) sanction letter no./file no.: 09/079(2836)2019-EMR-I]. The author acknowledges CSIR for the same. The second author acknowledges the funding support provided by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India, through Project reference number MoES/PAMC/H&C/41/2013-PC-II. The authors gratefully acknowledge the United States Geological Survey (USGS) as the source for Sentinel, Landsat, Corona, and SRTM DEM data. We also acknowledge the Survey of India for topographical maps.


The first author is an awardee of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) research associateship [HRDG(CSIR) sanction letter no./file no.: 09/079(2836)2019-EMR-I]. The author acknowledges CSIR for the same.

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The first author has executed the major analysis and also contributed to the manuscript writing. The second and third authors have contributed to the manuscript writing, interpretations, and geomorphological descriptions.

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Correspondence to Rajesh Kumar Sah.

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Edited by Dr. Richard Boothroyd (ASSOCIATE EDITOR) / Dr. Michael Nones (CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF).

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Sah, R.K., Kumar, D.N. & Das, A.K. Channel evolution of the Himalayan tributaries in northern Brahmaputra plain in recent centuries. Acta Geophys. 70, 1317–1330 (2022).

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  • Himalayan tributaries
  • Northern Brahmaputra plain
  • River avulsion
  • River planform changes
  • Co-seismic surface warp
  • Intensified sedimentation