Abstract

Recent geological and geophysical data from southern Tibet allow refinement of models for the closing of southern (Neo-) Tethys and formation of the Himalaya. Shelf sediments of the Indian passive continental margin which pass northward into deep-sea Tethyan sediments of the Indus-Tsangpo suture zone were deposited in the Late Cretaceous. An Andean-type margin with a 2,500-km-long Trans-Himalayan (Kohistan-Ladakh-Gangdese) granitoid batholith formed parallel to the southern margin of the Lhasa block, together with extensive andesites, rhyolites, and ignimbrites (Lingzizong Formation). The southern part of the Lhasa block was uplifted, deformed, and eroded between the Cenomanian and the Eocene. In the western Himalaya, the Kohistan island arc became accreted to the northern plate at this time. The northern part of the Lhasa block was affected by Jurassic metamorphism and plutonism associated with the mid-Jurassic closure of the Bangong-Nujiang suture zone to the north.

The timing of collision between the two continental plates (ca. 50-40 Ma) marking the closing of Tethys is shown by (1) the change from marine (flysch-like) to continental (molasse-like) sedimentation in the Indus-Tsangpo suture zone, (2) the end of Gangdese I-type granitoid injection, (3) Eocene S-type anatectic granites and migmatites in the Lhasa block, and (4) the start of compressional tectonics in the Tibetan-Tethys and Indus-Tsangpo suture zone (south-facing folds, south-directed thrusts).

After the Eocene closure of Tethys, deformation spread southward across the Tibetan-Tethys zone to the High Himalaya. Deep crustal thrusting, Barrovian metamorphism, migmatization, and generation of Oligocene-Miocene leucogranites were accompanied by south-verging recumbent nappes inverting metamorphic isograds and by south-directed intracontinental shear zones associated with the Main Central thrust. Continued convergence in the late Tertiary resulted in large-scale north-directed backthrusting along the Indus-Tsangpo suture zone. More than 500 km shortening is recorded in the foreland thrust zones of the Indian plate, south of the suture, and > 150 km shortening is recorded across the Indian shelf (Zanskar Range) and the Indus suture in Ladakh. There was also large-scale shortening of the Karakoram and Tibetan microplates north of the suture; as much as 1,000 km shortening occurred in Tibet. The more recent deformation, however, involved the spreading of this thickened crust and the lateral motion of the Tibetan block along major approximately east-west–trending strike-slip fault zones.

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