The crustal orogeny which formed the present-day Tien Shan results from the complex interaction between two independent processes. The first is the lateral (horizontal) compression related to the collision between the Indian and Eurasian Plates. The second is the rearrangement and flow of crustal material at different levels of the lithosphere beneath the mountain belt. Two broad morphologic and genetic types of mountain basins (intramontane and intermontane/foreland) are proposed as indicators of specific geodynamic factors controlling the topographic relief of the orogenic belt. The first-type basins, having the upper crustal roots, reflect mainly the N–S crustal compression and correspond to simple (elementary) longitudinal folds with basement involvement. The second type basins developed mostly in response to deep processes in the upper mantle and lower crust.

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