Competing hypotheses suggest that Himalayan topography is sustained and the plate convergence is accommodated either solely along the basal décollement, the Main Himalayan thrust (MHT), or more broadly, across multiple thrust faults. In the past, structural, geomorphic, and geodetic data of the Nepalese Himalaya have been used to constrain the geometry of the MHT and its shallow frontal thrust fault, known as Main Frontal thrust (MFT). The MHT flattens at depth and connects to a hinterland mid-crustal, steeper thrust ramp, located ∼100 km north of the deformation front. There, the present-day convergence across the Himalaya is mostly accommodated by slip along the MFT. Despite a general agreement that in Nepal most of the shortening is accommodated along the MHT, some researchers have suggested the occurrence of persistent out-of-sequence shortening on interior faults near the Main Central thrust (MCT).
Along the northwest Himalaya, in contrast, some of these characteristics of central Nepal are missing, suggesting along-strike variation of wedge deformation and MHT fault geometry. Here we present new field observations and seven zircon (U-Th)/He (ZHe) cooling ages combined with existing low-temperature data sets. In agreement with our previous findings, we suggest that the transect of cooling age patterns across the frontal Dhauladhar Range reveals that the Main Boundary thrust (MBT) is a primary fault, which has uplifted and sustained this spectacular mountain front since at least the late Miocene. Our results suggest that the MBT forms an ∼40-km-long fault ramp before it soles into the MHT, and motion along it has exhumed rocks from depth of ∼8–10 km. New three-dimensional thermokinematic modeling (using Pecube finite-element code) reveals that the observed ZHe and apatite fission track cooling ages can only be explained by sustained mean MBT slip rates between ∼2.6 and 3.5 mm a-1 since at least 8 Ma, which corresponds to a horizontal shortening rate of ∼1.7–2.4 mm a-1. We propose that the MBT is active today, despite a lack of definitive field or seismogenic evidence, and continues to accommodate crustal shorting by out-of-sequence faulting. Assuming that present-day geodetic shorting rates (∼14 ± 2 mm a-1) across the northwest Himalaya have been sustained over geologic time scales, this implies that the MBT accommodated ∼15% of the total Himalayan convergence since its onset. Furthermore, our modeling results imply that the MHT is missing a hinterland mid-crustal ramp further north.