Abstract

The depositional age and stratigraphic correlations of metamorphosed and variably deformed rocks of Mount Everest are poorly known because of limited recovery of diagnostic fossils. Detailed study of Cambrian and Ordovician strata from along the length of the Himalaya has produced a coherent stratigraphy that stretches from northern India to Tibet. Our work also demonstrates that the North Col Formation rocks (= Everest series), between the Qomolangma and Lhotse detachments of the South Tibetan detachment system, still locally preserve sedimentary textures and primary stratigraphy that match those within Cambrian strata ~1100 km to the west in northern India. This demonstrates a coherency of depositional systems and stratigraphic architecture for Cambrian deposits along much of the Himalaya Tethyan margin. It also allows, for the first time, identification of precise depositional ages of several units in the Everest region, in particular, the Yellow Band carbonate and directly underlying siliciclastic strata, which are both shown to be late Middle Cambrian in age. Detrital zircon data presented herein for a sample from these siliciclastic strata contain a similar age spectrum to those from Middle Cambrian strata in northern India, as well as grains as young as ca. 526 Ma, both of which support the depositional age and continuity of depositional systems along the length of the Himalaya. Highly fractured rocks of the Ordovician lower Chiatsun Group in the hanging wall of the South Tibetan detachment system in Nyalam, 75 km to the west of Everest, correlate with Ordovician strata of the Mount Qomolangma Formation on Mount Everest. Our correlations indicate that the base of the summit pyramid of Everest, the foot of the “Third Step,” is composed of a 60-m-thick, white-weathering thrombolite bed. The top of this ancient microbial deposit crops out only 70 m below the summit of Mount Everest.

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