Knowledge of the late Mesozoic topography and drainage system of the Tibetan Plateau is essential for understanding the Cenozoic tectonic dynamics of the plateau. However, systematic analyses of the pre-Cenozoic surface uplift history and sediment-routing systems of the Tibetan Plateau remain sparse. Here we present new results for paleocurrents and U-Pb detrital zircon geochronology from the Lanping Basin, a key junction in the southeastern (SE) Tibetan Plateau, and integrate multidisciplinary data sets to constrain sediment provenance and reconstruct paleotopography and its drainage system throughout the Cretaceous. Our results indicate that mid- to Late Cretaceous (ca. Albian−Santonian) tectonically induced surface uplift occurred in the SE Tibetan Plateau, leading to the build-up of an extensive topographic barrier, and resultant rain shadows in the interior of east Asia. Superimposition of this topographic pattern by uplands in the eastern margin of Asia meant that the Cretaceous topography of east Asia was characterized by an enclosed paleo-relief pattern that was high in both the east and west, with drainage from the east and west to the south, contrasting with previously proposed configurations. This topographic pattern interrupted the atmospheric circulation pattern and generated widespread intracontinental desertification and drainage network evolution in east Asia. Our study constrains a key part of the late Mesozoic growth of the Tibetan Plateau prior to the Cenozoic collision between India and Eurasia and will improve our understanding of the paleoclimate, atmospheric circulation, and modern drainage system evolution of the east Asian continent.

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