The Barkol Tagh and Karlik Tagh ranges of the easternmost Tien Shan are a natural laboratory for studying the fault architecture of an active termination zone of a major intracontinental mountain range. Barkol and Karlik Tagh and lesser ranges to the north are bounded by active thrust faults that locally deform Quaternary sediments. Major thrusts in Karlik Tagh connect along strike to the east with the left-lateral Gobi–Tien Shan Fault System in SW Mongolia. From a Mongolian perspective, Karlik Tagh represents a large restraining bend for this regional strike-slip fault system, and the entire system of thrusts and strike-slip faults in the Karlik Tagh region defines a horsetail splay fault geometry. Regionally, there appears to be a kinematic transition from thrust-dominated deformation in the central Tien Shan to left-lateral transpressional deformation in the easternmost Tien Shan. This transition correlates with a general eastward decrease in mountain belt width and average elevation and a change in the angular relationship between the NNE-directed maximum horizontal stress in the region and the pre-existing basement structural grain, which is northwesterly in the central Tien Shan (orthogonal to SHmax) but more east–west in the eastern Tien Shan (acute angular relationship with SHmax). Ar–Ar ages indicate that major range-bounding thrusts in Barkol and Karlik Tagh are latest Permian–Triassic ductile thrust zones that underwent brittle reactivation in the Late Cenozoic. It is estimated that the modern mountain ranges of the extreme easternmost Tien Shan could have been constructed by only 10–15 km of Late Cenozoic horizontal shortening.

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