The high strength of the Tarim Basin (northwestern China) lithosphere, widely regarded as a Precambrian craton, is evidenced by its resistance to Cenozoic deformation in the Himalayan- Tibetan orogen. However, Neoproterozoic suturing and early Paleozoic shortening within the Tarim Basin suggest that its rigidity is a relatively recent phenomenon with unknown cause. We reprocessed high-resolution magnetic data that show a 300–400-km-diameter radial pattern of linear anomalies emanating from a central region characterized by mixed positive-negative anomalies. We suggest that this pattern was generated by the previously hypothesized Permian (ca. 300–270 Ma) plume beneath the Tarim Basin. Constrained by published geochemical and geochronological data from plume-related igneous rocks, we propose that the ~30 m.y. Permian plume activity resulted in a more viscous, depleted, thicker, dehydrated, and low-density mantle lithosphere. The resulting stronger lithosphere deflected strain from the Cenozoic India-Asia convergence around Tarim Basin, including Pamir overthrusting to the northwest and Altyn Tagh left-slip displacement to the northeast, thus shaping the geometry of the Himalayan-Tibetan orogen.

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