Abstract

Geologic mapping and geochronological analysis in southwest (Kailas area) and southeast (Zedong area) Tibet reveal two major episodes of Tertiary crustal shortening along the classic Indus-Tsangpo suture in the Yalu River valley. The older event occurred between ca. 30 and 24 Ma during movement along the north-dipping Gangdese thrust. The development of this thrust caused extensive denudation of the Gangdese batholith in its hanging wall and underthrusting of the Xigaze forearc strata in its footwall. Examination of timing of major tectonic events in central Asia suggests that the initiation of the Gangdese thrust was approximately coeval with the late Oligocene initiation and development of north-south shortening in the eastern Kunlun Shan of northern Tibet, the Nan Shan at the northeastern end of the Altyn Tagh fault, the western Kunlun Shan at the southwestern end of the Altyn Tagh fault, and finally the Tian Shan (north of the Tarim basin). Such regionally synchronous initiation of crustal shortening in and around the plateau may have been related to changes in convergence rate and direction between the Eurasian plate and the Indian and Pacific plates. The younger thrusting event along the Yalu River valley occurred between 19 and 10 Ma along the south-dipping Great Counter thrust system, equivalent to the locally named Renbu-Zedong thrust in southeastern Tibet, the Backthrust system in south-central Tibet, and the South Kailas thrust in southwest Tibet. The coeval development of the Great Counter thrust and the North Himalayan granite-gneiss dome belt is consistent with their development being related to thermal weakening of the north Himalayan and south Tibetan crust, due perhaps to thermal relaxation of an already thickened crust created by the early phase of collision between India and Asia or frictional heating along major thrusts, such as the Main Central thrust, beneath the Himalaya.

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