International Journal of Geosciences, 2011, 2, 155-163
doi:10.4236/ijg.2011.22016 Published Online May 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. IJG
Geomorphologic Structure, Characteristics and Processes
in the Cangshan Mountains: Explanations for the
Formation and Development of the Dali Glaciation*
Ye Wan1, Kaidao Fu2, Yong Liu3, Zhengtao Shi3
1Yunnan Institute o f Geography, Yunnan University, Kunming, Ch ina
2Asian International Rivers Center, Yunnan University, Ku nming, China
3College of Tourism and Geographic Sciences, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming, China
Received March 14 , 20 1 1; revised April 17, 2011; accepted May 9, 2011
The area around Cangshan Mountain, located on the southeastern fringes of the Tibetan Plateau, is a key re-
gion in terms of revealing the processes involved in the uplifting of the Tibetan Plateau, plus its environ-
mental effects. Based on systemic field and laboratory work, this study uncovers the step-like geomorpho-
logic structure, characteristics and processes revealed in the Cangshan Mountain area, to argue for the for-
mation and development of the Quaternary glaciation there. The results indicate that there were two pa-
leo-glaciations in the area, which were the early and late Dali Glaciations, and that these occurred during the
time periods 5.76 × 104 aBP and 1.6 × 104 aBP respectively, being the southernmost paleo-glaciations to
have taken place in China. Two step-like paleo-planation surfaces were formed vertically at the mountain
(that is, at the summit of Cangshan, which is 3800 to 4000 m above sea level (a.s.l) in height; and at the pa-
leo-glacial and peri-glacial active zones: 3700 to 3900 m a.s.l. in height). Meanwhile three widespread ero-
sion surfaces can be identified at about 2900 to 3500 m, 3000 to 3100 m and 2450 to 2550 m a.s.l. in height;
three fluvial fans developed on the landform at about 2250 to 2200 m, 2200 to 2150 m and 2150 to 2100 m
a.s.l. in height respectively, and lacustrine relief developed surrounding the Erhai Lake.
Keywords: The Dali Glaciation, Step-Like Landform, Cangshan Mountain
1. Introduction
The Yunnan-Guizhou plateau, located on the famous
Mediterranean-Himalaya orogen, was activated and tilted
by the Tibetan plateau uplift and the Himalaya orogenic
movement after the Neogene period, so that the Yun-
nan-Guizhou plateau rose in the form of both a lift-stop
and a block-uplift, and its landforms are now character-
ized by plateau-block faults, with deep mountain incised
valleys, interspersed with lake basins. Cangshan Moun-
tain (about 4122 m a.s.l ), lies in the tilted uplifted area
of western Yunnan and in the southeastern part of the
Hengduanshan Mountains, and is a step-like block mou-
ntain with parallel mountainous ridges and valleys (Fig-
ure 1).
Cangshan Mountain and the glaciation on its peak are
important clues to use to explore the process of glacia-
tion that has taken place on the Tibet plateau and the
evaluation of continental glaciers in southwest China.
Much research has been conducted in order to better un-
derstand the formation of Cangshan Mountain and the
Dali glaciation by both foreign and domestic scholars.
First, H.von, a famous German geographer, was the first
to name the glacier as the ‘Dali glacier’ at the latter end
of the 1930s [1]. Next, the Chinese glaciologist Shi Ya-
feng stressed its importance in terms of the glaciological
field [2], and the formation of the mountain and the gla-
cier also attracted much attention from other scholars
whose research was focused on the Tibetan Plateau [3].
*Supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC)
grant (No.40801218); Yunnan Province Natural Science Foundation
(2008 CD 073); and Project of Young-Middle Aged Academic Leader
Candidates of Yunnan Province (2009 CI050).
The development of Cangshan Mountain and the for-
mation of the Dali Glacier have attracted much more
Figure 1. The background of geology of the Cangsha n M ountain.
attention from geomorphologists and geologists world-
wide since the 1970s. L.V. Loczy, a famous Hungarian
scholar, explored Yunnan via southern Tibet and western
Sichuan early in the last century, investigating the glacial
landscape and the distribution of the moraines [4]. A
British scientist named F. K. Ward devoted his time to
exploring the development of the glacier and river val-
leys in the Three Parallel Rivers region, located in
northwest Yunnan Province, focusing many of his re-
ports on this issue after 1913 [4]. J. Coggin Brown car-
ried out an extensive survey on the geological and geo-
morphological background of the Yunnan plateau, in
particular observing the geomorphology of the Dali area
[4]. Meanwhile, Gregory spent his time observing the
geological setting in northwest Yunnan, and a more de-
tailed scientific expedition was carried out by W. Cred-
ner in his “Report of a Yunnan Geographic Expedition”
in 1930 [4]. Credner’s results were published in Natural
Science and suggested that the Xima pool (a small, cir-
cular lake) at the Zhonghe summit is a cirque lake [5]. In
the late 1930s, H. Von Wissman referred to the glacia-
tion at Cangshan and Yulongshan Mountains many times
in his publications, in particular The Pleistocene Glacia-
tion of Chin a, and as a result put forward the concept of a
Dali Glaciation [2,5]. Mitch investigated Yunnan from
1940 to 1947 and wrote the books: A Geological Survey
of Yunnan and The Tectonic history of Yunnan and Ge-
ology of Lijiang [6]. At the same time, Feng Jinlan, a
Chinese scholar, provided his understanding of the evo-
lution of the landforms, geomorphology and physiogra-
phy in the region [7]. Later, Chen Fubin studied the Qu-
aternary accumulation, the geomorphology and neo- tec-
tonic activity around Cangshan and Yulongshan Moun-
tains [8].
It is important to review and confirm the facts regard-
ing the formation and evolution of Cangshan Mountain
and the Dali glacier by going through the contrasting
research work in other regions, and the results of this
review will help give important clues as to the climatic
effects caused by the Tibetan uplift [9]. As a result, our
research work has included systemic field and laboratory
work, in order to gain more intelligence on this issue
since the mid to late 1990s.
2. The Vertical Geomorphic Structure and
Characteristics of Cangshan Mountain
2.1. Paleoplanation Surfaces
The paleoplanation surfaces, formed in the Paleogene
period, are from an uplifted peneplain which is low in
gradient and scattered across the mountainous and pla-
teau ar eas in cent ral an d wester n China, bu t is distr ibuted
continuously around the Tibetan Plateau [10,11]. Ac-
cording to the research by Li et al. [12], the main plana-
tion surface on the Tibetan Plateau was formed at about
1000 m a.s.l. during the Pliocene and late cenozioc peri-
ods. The present surface, at about 4500 m, is the best
preserved planation surface in China, and this extends
from the Tibetan Plateau and northern Hengduanshan
Mountains, to Lijiang and Dali in western Yunnan at a
height of aroun d 4500 m, falling to ab out 2000 m around
the Kunming region in the central Yunnan-Guizhou Pla-
teau. This hierarchy landform indicates that ancient tec-
tonic activity was widely associated with neo-tectonic
action in the region. From the mountain summit to the
river valley, there are glaciers, lake basins and fluvial
landscapes. The plateau surface has been dissected with
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. IJG
Y. WAN ET AL.157
alternating mountain ranges and valleys in northwest
Yunnan, due to the block-fault uplifts of the mountains
and the deep incisions of the rivers. At present, the sum-
mit surface in Yulongshan is between 5000 and 5200 m
in height and at Cangshan, it is 3750 to 4000 m in height,
these being the remnants of the highest paleoplanation
surface (Figure 2). Jianchuan red clay, which is mainly
distributed around the Dali and Lijiang regions, was
formed during the late Tertiary period, and is contempo-
raneous with the Panzhihua red clay which developed in
the southwest Sichuan basin. In contrast to the Jianchuan
clay stratum, an ancient peneplain developed in the Dali
basin surrounding the Erhai Lake, where thick Songma-
opo formations were deposited above the peneplain and
developed into lacustrine sediment. In accordance with
previous research, the bottom of the Songmaopo Forma-
tion dates from 330 × 104 aBP, during the beginning of
the dissection of the Dali planation surface and
block-fault uplift of Cangshan Mountain. At the same
time, Erhai Lake started to develop, and Cangshan
Mountain was up lifted from 700 m a .s.l. to 4000 m a.s.l .
- its present position. The mountain range has therefore
been lifted about 3300 m since 330 × 104 aBP, to become
the highest planation surface in the Dali area (Table 1).
This planation surface has been eroded by ice and wa-
ter, so the remnants are revealed in the form of alternat-
ing mountain ranges and valleys, with thin modern gla-
ciers over the top. As a result glacial rock, gelifluction
and frost heaving hillocks can be investigated on the
2.2. The Cold Geomorphic Process and the
Paleoglacial a nd Peri g la c ia l Z on e
Cangshan Mountain is located in a subtropical zone,
where it rains broadly in the summer and autumn under
the influence of the southeast Pacific monsoon and the
Indian Ocean’s warm and humid climate. The land, tem-
perature and snowfall conditions all help in the devel-
opment of glaciers in these high-elevation moun tains. At
a height of 3700 to 3900 m, the dominant paleoglacial,
periglacial and modern fluvial processes are active (Fig-
ure 2). Incision by fluvial processes, frost weathering,
and collapse and block movements, are the main external
geomorphologic processes that take place in the Cang-
shan Mountain area. The rock strata are mainly com-
posed of Precambrian metamorphic rock, which consti-
tutes the core of the mountain and is overlaid by a thin
layer of weathered rocks and sub-high mountainous
meadow soil. Ren Meie et al. [13] and Shi Ya- feng et al.
[14,15] argued that the snowline for the last glaciation in
Dali was 3900 m. The oceanic climate has been more
helpful in the development of glaciers than the continen-
tal climate; therefore, it is possible that the last glacial
snowline at Cangshan Mountain would have dropped
about 100 to 150 m to reach a height of 3800 to 3750 m.
Based on this research; however, the eastern slope of
Cangshan Mountain appears to be steeper than the west-
ern slope, and through the use of aerial photographs, 65
cirques have been identified on Cangshan Mountain, plus
three glacial lakes, two glacial basins and six nivation
hollows. These are distributed between Wutai summit in
the northern part of the Mountain and Sh engying summit ,
in t h e so u th e rn part - between Yingle summit and Malong
summit. There are 47 cirques on the eastern slopes of
Cangshan Mountain, and eighteen on the western slopes
[16], the greater number in the east due to differences in
landforms and precipitation. First, in terms of the relief
structure of Cangshan Mountain, the eastern slope is
steeper, so there are more horns and arêtes, plus, inter-
estingly, there are erosion roofs distributed near the fault
cliffs, formed by glacial and periglacial processes,
Figure 2. The profile map of vertical geomorphologic de-
velopment of the eastern slope in the Cangshan Mountain.
Table 1. The stratum structure and the extent of the planation surfaces in the Dali and Lijiang areas.
Region Stratum Age
(Ma) Height of the Paleoplanation
Surface (M a.s.l.) Height of the Remaining
Planation Surfaces (M a.s.l) Uplifted
Height (m)
Dali Area Paleoplanation surface-Songmaopo
lacustrine sediment-Jianchuan red
clay 330 700 4000 3300
Paleoplanation surface-Songmaopo
lacustrine sediment-Jianchuan red
clay 330 700 5000 4300
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. IJG
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and these landforms facilitate the formation of cirque gla-
ciers. Secondly, although Cangshan Mountain is high and
has an almost north-south alignment, it is not long
enough to block the water vapor from crossing from one
side of the mountain to the other, something which is
very different from the other mountains in the area, such
as Yulong Mountain and Haba Mountian, where precipi-
tation on the western slope is greater than on the eastern
slope. When water vapor moves across to the eastern
slope, it is uplifted by the Erhai cold anticyclone , leading
to greater precipitation on the eastern slope. Annual pre-
cipitation is 1081 mm at Yangbi weather station on the
western slope, is 1078 mm in Dali town, on the eastern
slope, and is 1052 mm in Xiaguan [17]. The data indi-
cates that precipitation on the eastern and western slopes
is almost equal statistically, showing the special n a ture of
the local rainfall, which is caused by Cangshan’s geo-
morphic structure being dominated by the south-western
monsoon. The particular landform and precipitation has
resulted in more cirques developing on the eastern slope
than on the western slope. Our knowledge of glacier
characteristics [2,5], as well as the detailed field and in-
door work carried out, proves that the development of
glacial erosion landforms in the study area mostly took
the form of cirques, and that the paleoglacier which de-
veloped on Cangshan Mountain can basically be charac-
terized as a hanging oceanic cirque glacier. Through
surveys it has been established that the ancient cirques
are distributed in two tiers along the two sides of the
ridge, and the height of the higher tier of cirques is at
about 3800 to 3950 m, and the lower tier is at about 3800
to 3850 m, with the length and width of the cirques being
about 250 to 400 m and 300 to 500 m, respectively (Ta-
ble 2). The Lanfeng cirque is the most typical, as, located
at about 3900 m there are obvious anti-slope and cross-
walls at the bottom of the cirque, the length and width of
both being 500 m. Able to be seen clearly from Xizhou, a
town on the shores of Lake Erhai, two cirque lakes, Hu-
anglong pool at about 3880 m and Heilong pool at about
3850 m, developed between Lanfeng and Sanyangfeng
summits (Table 2). Lanfeng peak is a typical arête, with
a huge-filled stone glacier having developed at the back
wall, and with periglacial sediment deposited at the bot-
tom of the cirque. Another typical cirque is Ximatan pool,
located on Yuju summit and at a height of abou t 3840m,
where there are debris slopes, stone-filled glaciers and
frost hillocks at the back wall of the cirque. The round
lake referred to by Credner, Wissmann and Feng Jinglan,
is actually the Ximatan cirque [2,5,7], which has been
preserved well in terms of its shape and has not been
incised by fluviation. The ESR age of the sediment at
Shuangtangzi cirque is 1.6 × 104 aBP [16,18], and is
deemed to have been formed during the late of Dali ice
epoch of the Pleistocene period. At that time, seven cir-
ques were formed and most of them are distributed to the
east of the mountain, and are associated with six nivation
Based on field survey, three types of periglacial were
found on the Cangshan Mountain. Debris slopes, stone-
filled glaciers mainly formed within the cold geomor-
phologic active zone where elevation is above 3700 m.
The slopes and stone-filled glaciers are about 10 – 20 m
long, and the about 50 - 80 m wide. Most distribute on
summits with altitude above 4000 m, such as Malong
summit, Lanfeng summit, Sanyang summit, Yuju summit
and Longquan summit. Frozen expanded hillocks with
the diameter around 50 - 70 cm and height about 20 -
30 cm, mainly distributed on the ridge between two pe aks
where the Paleoplanation surface lies. Periglacial ves-
tiges found in eastern slope of Cangshan Mountain are-
more than those in western slope. We argue that the condi-
tion of landform, precipitation and temperature in eastern
Table 2. Parameters and characteristics of the glacial landforms.
Period Number of
Shape of
Altitude of
Landforms (m)ESR Age Glacier
Properties Glacial Process Development
Location of Typical
Glacial Landforms
Landforms on
the Upper
Seven cirques, six
nivation hollows,
horn-peaks and
Length is 250
to 400 m,
width is 300
to 500 m
3800 to 3950 m1.6 × 104 aBP
Belong to the
oceanic cirque
More typical
glacial morphology
and with few
remains left by
recent fluvial
Ximatan pool -
elevation is 3840 m.
Shuangtanzi pool -
elevation is 3850 m at
Yujufeng peak
Landforms on
the Lower
Twenty more
typical cirques
(anti-slopes and
distributed along
two sides of the
mountain ridge
Length is 250
to 300 m,
width is 500
to 750 m
3600 to 3850 m5.76 × 104 aBP
oceanic cirque
short ice
Relatively obvious
recent fluvial
action and
reliefs innovated by
fluvial processes
Hanglongtan pool
(elevation is 38 80 m)
and Heilongtan pool
(elevation is 38 50 m)
between Lanfeng peak
and Sanyangfeng peak
Characteristics Debris slopes, stone-filled glaciers and frost hillocks
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. IJG
slope are more suitable for periglacial geomorphology
The lower tier of cirques is located between 3700 and
3850 m and is larger in scale, with the lower of these
located at 3750 m and with a length of between 250 and
300 m, and a width of between 500 and 750 m (Table 2).
A thin layer of sediment has been deposited at the bot-
tom of the cirques, which are dominated by plants such
as azalea. Most of the cirque crosswalls have been cut
into by fluvial incision. A cirque lake formed during the
glacial epoch has since shrank and gradually dried up.
The Shuanglongtan pool; for example, was caused by
backward fluvial incision to the source, and has since
turned from one large pool into two smaller ones. Using
aerial photography, twenty seven cirques can be ob-
served on the eastern slope and three on the western
slope. The ESR age of the sediment deposited at the bot-
tom of the Yunnong su mmit cirque, which is located at a
height of 3600 m, can be dated back to 5.76 × 104 aBP
[16,19], at the early stages of the Dali ice epoch.
2.3. Mountainside Fluvial Incision
The erosion surface in the area is the planation surface
which has been uplifted and dissected on to the earth’s
surface [11-12]. There are several pediments on Cang-
shan Mountain at a height of between 2400 m and 370 0 m,
due to the phased block uplift of the Mountain during the
Quaternary period. Field investigations of the erosion
surface on the Mountain, have found at least six erosion
surfaces at heights of 3600 m, 3100 m, 2800 m, 2600 m,
2500 m and 2400 m. This series of erosion surfaces has
been incised by streams on the eastern slope, revealed by
alternating erosion surfaces and cliff pools. In general,
the conjunction of the surface and cliffs is presented as
typical fault triangles at a height of 2800 to 2900 m at
Qinglinfeng summit, and about 2900 to 3500 m at Yu-
jufeng summit. Two larger erosion surfaces exist at a
height of 2450 to 2550 m and at 3000 to 3100 m on the
respective summits (Figure 2).
The geomorphic processes along the mountain have
been dominated by slope flows (waterfall and sheet
flows), and the front parts of the erosion surfaces are
generally covered with thick residual material, with dif-
ferent thicknesses of alluvial and fluvial sediment on
both sides of the valley. The sediment is poorly rounded
and sorted, which can be mainly attributed to flood gene-
2.4. Mixed Deposition Process Zone on the
Several deposition fans can be found in the fields on the
eastern slopes of Cangshan. Based on the structure and
composition of the sediment found there, they have been
categorized as mixed depositions by researchers, because
the sediment does not accord with the characteristics of
the other types of sediment found [14,20]. As a result,
this study will define and title the piedmont sediment as
consisting of mixed deposition fans. There exist three
grades of deposition fan which run from an altitude of
2100 m to 2400 m - arranged neatly from south to north.
From top to bottom, the heights of the three deposition
fans are 2250 to 2200 m, 2200 to 2150 m and 2150 to
2100 m (Table 3). The highest fan meets the pediment,
and has sediment covering it in the form of a thrust fault.
As one moves from the higher to the lower fan, they
grow younger, the gradients become less and the scale
The fan at about 2250 to 2200 m is mainly composed
of large boulders, gravel and clay, and is poorly sorted,
with long term deposits and is intensively clayizated.
This fan has been incised by water and severely damaged,
so that it is now contains non-continuou s ridges and hills.
The texture and sediment characteristics of the fan dem-
onstrate that chiefly the d ynamics of fan deposition have
taken place, with debris and water-rock flows present
(Table 3).
The fan situated at a height of 2200 to 2150 m is cha-
racterized by considerable sorting and layer features, and
the South Baolin section can be used as an example. This
section is about 8.5 m in depth, with the upper layer be-
ing about 2 m deep and covered by a layer of grey mixed
deposits, of which th e scree sh ow s as poorly ro und ed an d
sorted stones with diameters ranging from 10 to 50 cm.
The middle layer of 1.5 m is composed of fine red gr avel
and has clear evidence of boulders between the upper
and middle layers. The upper part, with a thickness of 20
to 40 cm is paleosoil, with clear eluviation. The lower
layer of about 5 m is made of granite and balling boul-
ders, produced by weathered limestone. Generally, the
rocks in the low layer are 50 to 80 cm in diameter,
though some of them exceed 1m. This fan is preserved
better than the previous one mentioned. Neolithic ruins
left by humans, aged about 3000 aBP, and a Bronze Age
burial site from before 2000 aBP, can also be found in
the mixed deposits in the fan. The fan is considered to
have been produced by alluvial and fluvial processes
(Table 3).
The fan located between 2150 and 2100 m is distrib-
uted continuously along the foot of Cangshan, running
from north to south, and is covered mainly by farmland
and residential districts. The ruins of the ancient city of
Nanzhao, from before 1000 aBP, are located within this
fan as well. Most of the component materials are sands,
ine sands and clay, within which are some large boul- f
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. IJG
Table 3. The structure and genesis of the three deposit fans.
Fans Altitude/m Characteristics Composition Genesis
First Class Fan 2250 - 2200
Connecting with the pediment and with an
early relative age; distributed non-continuously
due to water flow incisions during the post-
glacial period.
Composed of huge boulders, gravel
and clay; clay weathering action is
Slope accumulation is do-
minant and pluvial depo-
sits are secondary.
Second Class Fan 2200 - 2150
Connected to the first class fan plus the surface
layer is composed of rocks (boulder clays with
a diameter of about 10-15 cm); has a poor de-
gree of rounding and a poorly developed sorted
action; also the middle layer of the profile is
about 1.5 m. Has one fine gravel accumulation
area. Where there is an obvious dividing layer
at between 20 to 40 cm, plus obvious e luviation
– can be considered as one paleopsoil layer.
The middle layer of the profile is
about 1.5 m. Has one fine gravel
accumulation area where there is an
obvious dividing layer at between
20 and 40 cm., plus there is obvious
eluviation - can be considered one
paleopsoil layer.
Debris flows;
water flow;
pluvial deposits.
Third Class Fan 2150 - 2100
The relief shape of this fan is preserved better
than for the second class fan, and reveals con-
tinuous distribution along the Cangshan moun-
tain pediment.
There is better classified action and
finer layer structures than in the
other classes of fan; is composed of
sand, fine sand and clay plus there
are a few boulders and huge rocks
The profil e shows that the
pluvial process is domi-
nant and fluvial process is
An obvious characteris-
tic is that it has transited
forward under the coas-
tal deposit process.
ders and gravels. Due to an interaction between mountain
streams and the lakeshore zone, the geomorphology has
fluvial, alluvial and lacustrine characteristics. In accor-
dance with the structure and the origins of the fan, a ge-
morphologic transition from a proluvial, alluvial fan to a
coastal plain can be iden tified (Table 3).
As Cangshan Moun tain was up lifted d ramatically after
the Quaternary period, a time associated with frequent
seismic activity, debris and erosion terrain of glaciers
was formed on the mountain peak, but the corr esponding
and typical moraine sediment has not yet been found.
However, huge stones with a diameter of 3 to 5 m are
disseminated along the highway in Dali city, and have
been identified as ancient glacial boulders. A large area
of sediments, to the east of Santa Temple, ranging from 3
m to several millimeters in diameter, may have been the
product of debris flow. The fan-shaped depositions at the
bayou of 18 streams, character ized by roughly sorted and
assembled pebbles, are deemed to be fluvial and alluvial
sediments. This mixed deposition was formed by an in-
teraction of ice boulders, ancient and modern debris
flows, alluvial, proluvial and lacustrine processes, and
other external forces. The varying dominant forces on the
landform have resulted in specific materials and compo-
nents appearing in the sediments; meanwhile, the giant
stones distributed at the foot of the mountain are the
product of storm debris flows, or may have been pro-
duced by weathering and other flow processes. The fine
and middle grain sized materials within the debris flow
deposition have been remov ed by the stream, so the g iant
stones stand alone and are a major landscape feature near
to Dali town (Figure 3).
2.5. Human-Related Geomorphic Structures on
the Lake Plain and Lakeshore Terraces
Following the deposition of the three mixed fans, the
area was dominated by the Erhai Lake Plain at a height
of between 2100 to 1900 m and a width of about 1 to
3 km. Settlements such as Dali and Xizhou developed
during the Yuan Dynasty on the lakeshore plain, which
indicates that the coastal plain was formed 700 to 800
years ago. The coastal plain sediment is about 10 to 20 m
thick and contains greyish-yellow clay, compressed with
gravel, grass and coal. Based on field observations, four
terraces have been identified at the eastern foot of Cang-
shan Mountain. The fourth terrace, which is 2 m higher
than the water level of the lake, has been identified as a
basement terrace and is composed of fine lacustrine sand
and peat soil, but the other three are all accumulation
terraces. The height above the lake water level of these
three terraces is 10 m, 15 to 30 m and 40 to 80 m respec-
tively, and they are covered by Lacustrine, alluvial and
proluvial sediments from the bottom to the top. The ter-
races were all formed during the Holocene period and are
closely related to local human activities. As the water
level in Erhai Lake dropped and the coastal terraces up-
lifted each time, so human activities and the cultural
landscape, including residential areas, farmland and
roads, expanded in the direction of the Lake. This fact
has also been proved by archaeological findings [21],
which indicate that New Stone Age ruins from before
Y. WAN ET AL.161
Figure 3. Map differentiating the geomorphologic struc-
tures and process classifications at Cangshan Mountain and
its adjacent mountain, in Yunnan Province.
3000 aBP and Bronze Age burial mounds from before
2000 aBP existed on the third terrace, but then the ruins
of Nanzhao from about 1000 aBP moved to the lower
second terrace, and settlements from the Yuan and Ming
Dynasties then moved to the second terrace. This is a
cultural landscape pattern created b y humans adapting to
changes in the natural environment, and in order to take
full advantage of it.
A profile map of the vertical geomorpholoical devel-
opment of the eastern slope of Cangshan Mountain is
shown in Figure 2. A typical inland plateau lakeshore
erosion landscape has formed on the eastern shore of
Erhai Lake, instead of on the plain, with capes, bays and
eroded cliffs distributed from east to west along the
banks of the lake. The relative height from the top of the
cliff to the lake water level is from 100 m to 150 m, and
the cliff extends for more than 30 kilometers, making up
a unique coastal landscape. The lake’s bays are the best
places for building and for settlements; Wase and Hai-
dong towns are situated in bays. In addition, Luoquan
Temple and Wenbi tower are located at the most promi-
nent cape on the lake, near Haidong Town. These reli-
gious buildings and local residences are scattered across
the landscape, and these reveal the context of the local
culture. There are two isolated islands near Haidong
Town and Wase Lake bay: Jinsuo Island and Xiaoputuo
Island, where people from the Bai ethnic group exhibit
their culture and religion. In short, the eastern shore area
is a special place, with an historical cultural landscape
which includes a combination of lake-eroded landforms,
the culture of the Bai ethnic group and local religious
3. Geomorphologic Characteristics
Surrounding Cangshan Mountain
The Haidong Mountain s, to the east of Erhai Lake, are a
series of small mountains and hills shaped by fluvial
process. The rocks in the area are composed mainly of
Ordovician shale and sandstone, Silurian limestone and
shale, Carboniferous limestone and Permian basalt. The
area near Erhai Lake is dominated b y small hills 2100 to
2600 m in height, formed by water erosion. The strata
incline to west, thus building the formation of the Cang-
shan block as a small anticline, with th e Erhai depression
as a large syncline. The higher surface, at about 2400 to
2600 m in height, is a larger, more continuous peneplain
which represents the remnants of an ancient planation
surface, and the relief on the planation surface divides
the Erhai and Binchuan Basins, and this has moved to the
west due to gradual westwards erosion of the Binchuan
River. The water level of Erhai Lake (at 1900 m) is 300 m
higher than the average altitude of Binchuan Basin, so
this topography has been used to divert water from Erhai
to Binchuan since the 1990s (Figure 3).
Huadian Basin is located between the Cangshan, Yan-
jing, Yunnong and Canglang summits, and extends from
35 km from the north-west to the south-east, at an alti-
tude of about 3000 - 3300 m; at the conjunction of the
Erhai Lake Basin and the Eryuan Basin. The basin has an
anisomerous shape, the southwest slope is gentle with a
long, extended alluvial deposition fan, while the north-
east slope is steeper with no fan deposition. Most of the
rivers’ sources are in the southwestern mountains and
flow to the northeast. There is very thick Quaternary
sediment in the Huadian basin, which is a fault con-
trolled graben valley; the thick, loose Quaternary depos-
its are alluvial and there is slope deposition on the west-
ern slope. This sediment was produced by glacial me-
chanical weathering and freeze-thaw mud flow processes.
The fan was formed and continues to be formed by water
flowing along the western slopes of the valley, so the
course of the rivers there are gradually moving west-
wards. The landforms in the Huadian basin have been
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. IJG
created by river capture between the Huadian River and
Fengyu River, and this river capture process is still in
progress today (Figure 3).
4. Discussions
The glacial erosion geomorphology at different altitudes
is proof of the division in glaciation processes between
the Lijiang and Dali ice ages. The Dali glacial cirque,
crosswall and short-valley were originally distributed
between about 3750 and 3900 m. In the absence of gla-
cial deposit landforms, glacial landforms as represented
by the erosion cirques should be evidence of the exis-
tence of a Dali Ice Age. The cirque lake at Luoping
Mountain was originally distributed regularly along the
both sides of the main ridges. Shaped by water erosion
and other external forces over a long period, the area
reveals mixed rounded peaks and beams, and hilly areas
like the landscape on China’s the Loess Plateau. The
ancient glaciers were formed at an elevation of 2900 to
3200 m, about 750 to 800 m lower than the Dali Glacia-
tion snow line, and earlier than the Dali Ice Age at
Cangshan Mountain. The u-shaped valley which extends
forward for three kilometers, and the obvious lateral mo-
raine, should be evidence of the existence of the Lijiang
Ice Age. As a result, there is not only evidence for the
well-known scientific concept of a Dali glaciation in the
Cangshan area, but also an earlier Late Pleistocene glaci-
ation - the penultimate glaciation, known to us as the
Lijiang Ice Age in the Dali area.
The altitude of Cangsh an Mountain is higher than that
of Luoping Mountain, but glacial erosion and deposi-
tional geomorphology earlier than the Dali Ice Age has
not been found at Cangshan, so it cannot be determined
whether or not there was a penultimate glaciation at
Cangshan. All these facts have therefore created a mys-
tery in the field of Qu aternary glacial research; an incen-
tive to promote the continuation of scientific work to
explore this area.
5. Conclusions
The landforms in the area of Cangshan and Erhai Lake
are characterized by diverse compositions on a multiple
level, with fusions in the lan dscape. Though the region is
small, the landform types are comprehensive, complex
and changeable. There is a disaggregation of the Paleo-
planation surface, lacustrine depositions on the western
shores of the lake and erosion cliffs on the eastern shore;
plus river terraces and evidence of mountainous glacial
and periglacial processes. There is no doubt that Cang-
shan Mountain is the best place to research geomorphol-
ogy and neo-tectonic movements in the region.
The summit of Cangshan is at a height of 3700 m, a
remnant of the paleoplanation surface, and its develop-
ment was contemporaneous with Yulong Snow Moun-
tain, at about 5000 m in height in Lijiang, as well as the
surface of the Tibetan Plateau - at about 4500 m.
There have been two glaciations on Cangshan Moun-
tain, and there is evidence of glacial and periglacial
processes having taken place in the area above 3500 m,
during the process of the uplift of the mountain. The
scale of the two glaciations can be identified by the
quantity, scale, distribution and height of the cirques, an d
their ages are 5.76 × 104 aBP and 1.6 × 104 aBP, respec-
There are three large erosion surfaces on Cangshan
Mountain, which were formed by the ph ased uplift of the
mountain. Three mixed deposition fans were formed on
the eastern slope of the mountain, which are composed
of debris flows, water-rock flows; fluvial, alluvial and
slope depositions.
The mountainous area of east Erhai is the remnant of a
planation surface at about 2500 m, which is the b est pre-
served planation surface in the Dali area. This is of great
significance for the research of neo-tectonic movements
in the western Yunnan block, and the Huadian basin was
formed by the regional fault at the mountain. Thick and
loose Quaternary sediments were deposited in the basin,
and since that time, river capture has been the ongoing
geomorphologic process to have influenced landform
evolution in the basin.
The Dali glaciation and Cangshan Mountain are very
important subjects to research in terms of the environ-
ment and glacial geology in the area, and our research
offers a further level of understanding on the relationship
between the evolution of landforms and glaciers in the
area around Cangshan Mountain, through the field and
laboratory work we carried out based on former studies
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Copyright © 2011 SciRes. IJG
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