Nanga Parbat.
Nanga Parbat – mountain building in action

The Nanga Parbat massif, forming the heart of the so-called NW Himalayan syntaxis, is a place of superlatives. The peak, at 8125m is one of the great mountains of the world – the westernmost of the Himalayan chain. The geology is cut through by the Indus gorge, at just over 1000m above sea level. So the region contains some of the greatest topographic relief on the planet. The massif itself contains some of the youngest granites exposed in a mountain range (some just 2 million years old), the geothermal gradient is reckoned to be about 100C/km, one of the steepest outside of a volcanic area. Erosion rates are correspondingly rapid. There’s active faulting that cuts the earth’s surface. In short it’s a great place to investigate mountain building in action. These web resources give some further information including photographs of rocks and landscapes.

The early research on the massif was concerned with the structural geology associated with the tectonic uplift of the massif – and led to the discovery and description of the Liachar Thrust and associated faults (with Dave Prior). There followed research into the metamorphic and especially granite history of the massif (chiefly in collaboration with Nigel Harris), linked with reconnaissance work in many parts of the area. More recent research has been concerned in using Nanga Parbat as a window on deep crustal deformation processes and how they vary up through the continental crust.

Nanga Parbat photogallery.

Nanga Parbat diagrams.

A rather old "virtual field trip" takes you to some of the geology.

Research at Nanga Parbat has involved lots of collaboration over the years. First, I was introduced to the area by Mike Coward, then the early studies were with Dave Prior (now at Liverpool), followed by Rob Knipe and Peter Treloar (Kingston). Linking with Nigel Harris at the Open University involved co-supervising PhD projects for Mark George and Alan ("Elric") Whittington. Other players at the time included John Wheeler (Liverpool), Chris Jones (then at Shell UK) and Dave Rex (Leeds). In the late 90s saw a return to Parbat with a new team featuring Martin Casey (Leeds), Clare Bond, Paula McDade and Zoe Shipton (all at Edinburgh at the time) and Richard Jones (now at Durham).  

Publications relating to the massif include

( pdfs are available for some):

Butler, R.W.H. 2000. Structural evolution on the western margin of the Nanga Parbat massif, Pakistan Himalayas: insights from the Raikhot-Liachar area.   In: Tectonics of Western Himalaya and Karakoram (eds. M.A. Khan, M.Q. Jan, P.J. Treloar & M.P. Searle) Spec. Publ. Geol. Soc. London ,170, 51-75.

Butler, R.W.H. & Prior, D.J. 1988.   Tectonic controls on the uplift of Nanga Parbat, Pakistan Himalayas. Nature 333, 247-250.

Butler, R.W.H. & Prior, D.J. 1988.   Anatomy of a continental subduction zone: the Main Maintle thrust in Northern Pakistan. Geol. Rundschau 77, 239-255.

Butler, R.W.H., Prior, D.J. & Knipe, R.J. 1989.   Neotectonics of the Nanga Parbat syntaxis, Pakistan, and crustal stacking in the northwest Himalayas.Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 94, 329-343.

Butler, R.W.H., George, M., Harris, N.B.W., Jones, C., Prior, D.J., Treloar, P.J. & Wheeler, J. 1992. Geology of the northern part of the Nanga Parbat massif, Northern Pakistan, and its implications for Himalayan tectonics.J. Geol. Soc. London 149, 557-567.

Butler, R.W.H., Harris, N.B.W. & Whittington, A.G. 1997. Interactions between deformation, magmatism and hydrothermal activity during active crustal thickening: a field example from Nanga Parbat, Pakistan Himalayas. Min. Mag. 61, 37-52.

Butler, R.W.H., Wheeler, J., Treloar, P.J. & Jones, C. 2000. Geological structure of the southern part of the Nanga Parbat massif, Pakistan Himalayas, and its tectonic implications. In: Tectonics of Western Himalaya and Karakoram ( eds. M.A. Khan, M.Q. Jan, P.J. Treloar & M.P. Searle) Spec. Publ. Geol. Soc. London, 170, 123-136.

Butler, R.W.H., Casey, M., Lloyd, G.E., Bond, C.E., McDade, P., Shipton, Z. & Jones, R. 2002. Vertical stretching and crustal thickening at Nanga Parbat, Pakistan Himalaya – a model for distributed continental deformation during mountain building. Tectonics 21, 10.1029/2001TC901022

George, M.T., Harris, N.B.W. & Butler, R.W.H. 1993. The tectonic implications of contrasting post- collisional magmatism between the Kohistan island arc and the Nanga Parbat-Haramosh massif, Pakistan Himalaya. In: Himalayan Tectonics (ed. M.P. Searle & P.J. Treloar) Spec. Publs. Geol. Soc. London 74, 173-191.

Whittington, A.W., Harris, N.B.W. & Butler, R.W.H. 1999. Contrasting anatectic styles at Nanga Parbat, northern Pakistan. In: Himalaya and Tibet: Mountain roots to mountain tops ( eds. A. Macfarlane, R.B. Sorkhabi & J. Quade). Geological Society of America Special Paper, 328, 129-144.

Rob Butler.