Abstract

In the eastern Himalaya (Bhutan), there are two distinct top-down-to-the-north segments of the South Tibetan detachment system. The outer segment is a diffuse ductile shear zone preserved as klippen in broad open synforms. New age constraints show that it was active until at least ca. 15.5 Ma and cooled by ca. 11.0 Ma, as constrained by sensitive high-resolution ion microprobe (SHRIMP) U-Pb geochronology of magmatic zircon and 40Ar/39Ar thermochronology of muscovite in ductilely deformed leucogranite sills. The inner segment is a ductile shear zone active at least until ca. 11.0 Ma (constrained by SHRIMP U-Pb geochronology of magmatic zircon) and overprinted by more recent brittle faulting. These age constraints indicate that ductile deformation continued on the South Tibetan detachment more recently in the eastern Himalaya than in central and western parts of the orogen. These improved constraints on timing of South Tibetan detachment segments allow for a more detailed reconstruction of continental collision in the eastern Himalaya in which the outer South Tibetan detachment segment was abandoned in the mid-Miocene and passively transported southward in the hanging wall of the Main Himalayan thrust (the basal detachment of the orogen), while top-to-the-north ductile to brittle shearing continued on the inner South Tibetan detachment segment. Hinterland stepping of the South Tibetan detachment to maintain an orogenic critical taper (frictional wedge model) is a possible mechanism for this tectonic reorganization of the South Tibetan detachment during the Miocene. However, our data combined with published geochronologic data for the eastern Himalaya demonstrate that foreland translation and exhumation of a midcrustal dome (viscous wedge model) is the more tenable mechanism.

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