Interactions between midlatitude westerlies and the Pamir–Tian Shan mountains significantly impact hydroclimate patterns in Central Asia today, and they played an important role in driving Asian aridification during the Cenozoic. We show that distinct west-east hydroclimate differences were established over Central Asia during the late Oligocene (ca. 25 Ma), as recorded by stable oxygen isotopic values of soil carbonates. Our climate simulations show that these differences are present when relief of the Pamir–Tian Shan is higher than 75% of modern elevation (~3000 m). Integrated with geological evidence, we suggest that a significant portion of the Pamir–Tian Shan orogen had reached elevations of ~3 km and acted as a moisture barrier for the westerlies since ca. 25 Ma.

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