There is a strong genetic relationship between the petrogenesis of I-type granitoids and the evolution of continental crust in orogenic belts. This study of I-type granitoids in the East Kunlun orogen, Northern Tibetan Plateau, shows that reworking of old continental lithosphere is an important key to this genetic relationship. The East Kunlun has numerous Triassic granitic plutons that are related to subduction of the Palaeo-Tethyan ocean and terrane collision in the early Mesozoic. U–Pb analysis of zircons from these Triassic granitoids indicates that the granitic magmatism lasted from 249 to 223 Ma. Based on elemental and isotopic compositions and their petrogenesis, the magmatism can be divided into three groups. (1) Group 1 consists of quartz diorites and granodiorites (241–249 Ma), which are metaluminous high-K calc-alkaline I-type granitoids and exhibit typical subduction-related chemical characteristics. They were derived from lower crust mainly composed of Precambrian metabasaltic basement rocks with different degrees of involvement of mantle material. (2) Group 2 consists of granitic porphyries and syenogranites (231–238 Ma), which are high Rb/Sr, metaluminous to weakly peraluminous high-K alkali-calcic I-type granitoids, showing characteristics of typical pure crustal-derived granitoids. They were derived from partial melting of a Mesoproterozoic metagreywacke source in the lower crust. (3) Group 3 consists of porphyry granodiorites (c. 223 Ma), which are metaluminous high-K calc-alkaline I-type granitoids and exhibit the typical geochemical characteristics of adakites (e.g. high La/Yb and Sr/Y ratios and low Y and Yb contents). Their high K2O and low Mg# with evolved Sr–Nd–Hf isotopic compositions indicate that they were most probably derived from thickened mafic lower continental crust, which underwent partial melting induced by underplated hot mafic magma. Combining the present work with previous studies, we propose that the subduction of the Palaeo-Tethyan ocean lasted from 278 to 241 Ma, and the collision between the Bayan Har terrane and the East Kunlun occurred at 231–238 Ma, whereas the group 3 granitoids most probably formed in a post-collisional setting. Overall, all the studied I-type granitoids were derived from partial melting of old continental lower crust with minor addition of lithospheric mantle material; thus reworking of old continental lithosphere is an important mechanism for the evolution of orogenic crust.
Analytical methods, zircon U–Pb data, geochemical data, and Sr–Nd–Hf isotope data for the granitoids are available at www.geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18758.