The Zhada basin is a large Neogene extensional sag basin in the Tethyan Himalaya of southwestern Tibet. In this paper we examine environmental changes in the Zhada basin using sequence stratigraphy, isotope stratigraphy, and lithostratigraphy. Sequence stratigraphy reveals a long-term tectonic signal in the formation and filling of the Zhada basin, as well as higher-frequency cycles, which we attribute to Milankovitch forcing. The record of Milankovitch cycles in the Zhada basin implies that global climate drove lake and wetland expansion and contraction in the southern Tibetan Plateau from the Late Miocene to the Pleistocene. Sequence stratigraphy shows that the Zhada basin evolved from an overfilled to underfilled basin, but continued evolution was truncated by an abrupt return to fluvial conditions. Isotope stratigraphy shows distinct drying cycles, particularly during times when the basin was underfilled.
A long-term environmental change observed in the Zhada basin involves a decrease in abundance of arboreal pollen in favor of nonarboreal pollen. The similarity between the long-term environmental changes in the Zhada basin and those observed elsewhere on and around the Tibetan Plateau suggests that those changes are due to global or regional climate change rather than solely the result of uplift of the Tibetan Plateau.