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Abstract

The Cretaceous and Palaeogene sediments of the basins in Central Asia include the remnants of the easternmost extent of a vast shallow epicontinental sea, which extended across the Eurasian continent before it retreated westwards and eventually isolated as the Paratethys Sea. To improve understanding of its long-term palaeogeographical evolution, we complement the well-constrained chronological framework of the Tarim Basin in China with stratigraphic records of the sea retreat from the Fergana Basin and the Alai Valley Basin in southern Kyrgyzstan and the Afghan–Tajik Basin in SW Tajikistan. By lithostratigraphic analyses and identification of bivalve assemblages, this study establishes for the first time a clear and detailed regional correlation of Palaeogene marine strata across Central Asia, showing that the basins share a similar palaeogeographical evolution characterized by a long-term stepwise retreat punctuated by short-term shallow-marine incursions. Our correlation shows that the last two marine incursions recognized in the Tarim Basin can be traced westwards. The permanent disappearance of the sea from Central Asia probably occurred with limited diachroneity in the late Eocene, before the isolation of the Paratethys Sea, shifting the easternmost margin of the sea hundreds of kilometres westwards and probably significantly reducing moisture supply to the Asian interior.

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