Abstract

The extensional South Tibetan fault system (STFS) crops out for more than 2000 km along the length of the Himalayan range crest. Interpretations of the significance of this structure in Himalayan tectonics vary. While many regard it as rooted northward beneath Tibet, with offset estimates ranging as high as >200 km, others regard it as a relatively minor, rootless structure. Such inconsistent interpretations are possible because, except for the Everest region, where glacial erosion has exposed a cross section of the STFS, there are few direct constraints on the amount of slip on this feature. Arguments for very large displacements have been based on indirect lines of evidence (e.g., geothermobarometric data) that are multiply interpretable. However, new field work and remote sensing data reported here directly support the petrologic arguments for large displacements, at least in the eastern Himalaya. Near the western boundary of Bhutan, the trace of the STFS is apparently offset ∼70 km across a NNE-SSW–trending graben, the Yadong cross structure. This offset has been attributed by previous authors to left-lateral slip along the Jomolhari fault system, which bounds the eastern edge of the graben. In fact, the basal structure of the STFS is not offset, but forms a regionally continuous low-angle detachment surface. The outcrop pattern of the structure, kinematic indicators in fault-related tectonites, and the lack of matchable correlative hanging wall and footwall units require a minimum displacement of ∼65 km for the detachment. Such displacements are comparable with estimates for major contractional structures in the eastern Himalaya, such as the Main Central thrust system, and confirm the importance of STFS extension in the evolution of the orogenic system.

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