Abstract

We study the recent dynamics of the central Nepal Himalaya, focusing on possible reactivation of the footwall of the Main Central thrust, which is marked by an abrupt topographic transition. Different tectonic mechanisms, such as overthrusting of a major crustal ramp, underplating, or out-of-sequence thrusting, have been suggested to explain the morphology and exhumation patterns in this area. We present 25 new apatite fission-track ages collected along a north-south transect in central Nepal, as well as two age-elevation profiles. Ages are consistently younger than 3 Ma old in the Main Central thrust zone and increase continuously to 4–6 Ma old in the south. No jump in apatite fission-track ages is observed across the topographic transition. Apparent exhumation rates from age-elevation relationships vary from 0.46 +0.13/−0.09 km/Ma in the Palung granite south of Kathmandu to 4.4 +4.8/−1.5 km/Ma in the Main Central thrust zone; the latter rate is probably overestimated by a factor of two due to topographic effects. As shown by a new numerical model, these strongly varying exhumation rates can be explained by overthrusting of a crustal ramp, which exerts a primary control on age patterns, and do not require out-of-sequence reactivation of thrusts in the Main Central thrust zone.

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